UF hires surgeon involved in controversy at U. Kentucky


Published: Friday, July 12, 2013 at 6:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 12, 2013 at 6:31 p.m.

University of Florida officials said they are confident in the skills of incoming cardiothoracic surgeon Mark Plunkett, whose surgery program at the University of Kentucky has been suspended since late last year for reasons that have not yet been publicly disclosed.

Dr. Plunkett will resign from the University of Kentucky Aug. 14; UF officials said he will start at UF in the coming months.

"There was a team of people involved in recruiting Dr. Plunkett. We are very aware of the situation in Kentucky," said Tim Goldfarb, CEO of Shands HealthCare. "We are very comfortable with Dr. Plunkett about his competence as a surgeon."

Dr. Timothy Flynn, associate dean for clinical affairs at the University of Florida College of Medicine and chief medical officer for UF Health Shands Hospital, said that after being aware of the ongoing review of the surgery department in Kentucky, he talked to a number of surgeons in Kentucky, all of whom "had excellent things" to say about the surgeon.

Flynn added that Dr. Mark Bleiweis, the director of the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, and the lead cardiothoracic surgeon at Shands Hospital, was interested in recruiting Plunkett, and that the two have worked together before.

Flynn said that he also received an unsolicited phone call from someone who had worked with Plunkett and said that he "was an excellent surgeon and that the problems that he got into were not part of his surgical skill set; but more general problems with the environment and the team" at UK.

According to an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader, the internal review of UK's surgery department should be completed in the next few weeks. The paper also reported that, although Plunkett stopped doing surgeries late last year, he continued to receive an annual salary of $700,000, one of the highest at UK.

Patients in the meantime were referred to out-of-state hospitals during the review, the paper said. It quoted Dr. Michael Karpf, the executive vice president for health affairs at UK, as saying the suspension and review were undertaken to improve the surgery department and ensure it provides "world class surgeries." He also called Plunkett a "top-flight surgeon," according to the Herald-Leader.

Flynn said UF sees about 250 pediatric cardiac cases each year, which is in the upper half for programs in the nation. With three current surgeons on staff, they were looking for a fourth to meet the growing demand of patients, and Plunkett fit the bill, Flynn said.

"We've had a lot of time to think about him, get to know him, and investigate him," Flynn said. "The results we got back were very positive."

Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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