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Attorney General Rules UK in Violation of Open Records Act

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Attorney General’s office has ruled that the University of Kentucky violated the Open Records Act by withholding information requested by WUKY. Reporter Brenna Angel has the latest into the investigation of the pediatric heart surgery program at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

WUKY first reported in December that UK Healthcare was no longer performing cardiothoracic surgeries on children and that the program was under review. The university would not say what prompted the review or when surgeries would resume.

The radio station filed an open records request seeking information relating to Dr. Mark Plunkett, Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UK and the Director of the Pediatric and Congenital Heart Program. We wanted to know the date of Plunkett’s last surgery, the mortality rate of pediatric heart surgery cases, and documentation related to the program’s review.

The university denied access to those records citing the patient privacy rule in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA.  WUKY then sent an appeal to Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. His office requested a confidential review of the documents in question, but UK refused to comply.

In its decision, the Attorney General’s office stated that HIPAA does not preempt the Kentucky Open Records Act. The opinion went on to state that the university failed to meet its burden of proof.

At a press conference Monday related to UK’s Gill Heart Institute, of which Mark Plunkett is co-director, officials spoke highly of the progress UK Healthcare has made in cardiology.

“We now have the most complete cardiac program, not only in Kentucky, but in the region. We do everything from put a stethoscope on your chest to artificial hearts. There just isn’t anything that we don’t do that other places do,” said Dr. Michael Karpf, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs.

Yet the pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program remains under review, and patients from central and eastern Kentucky are being referred to hospitals out of state.

Dr. Mark Plunkett remains on staff.

When asked for an update Monday, Karpf had no comment.

“We’ll have something to say about that in a little while.”

The University has 30 days to review the Attorney General’s opinion. UK spokesman Jay Blanton says officials are considering whether to file an appeal.

Lexington native Brenna Angel anchored local morning newscasts for WUKY through May 13. She joined the station in March 2010 after previously working for WHAS-AM in Louisville.
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