- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Pediatric heart care services are returning to the University of Kentucky after a prolonged lapse, through a planned partnership announced Thursday between UK HealthCare and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

The goal is for pediatric cardiac surgeries to resume at Kentucky Children’s Hospital in Lexington in late 2016 or early 2017, UK officials said in announcing UK HealthCare and Cincinnati Children’s signed a letter of intent to move forward with the partnership. Officials said details still need finalizing.

Kentucky Children’s is part of the UK HealthCare system.

“All of this will take some time, and we’re certainly willing to invest that time to ensure that we have world-class care here in Lexington,” said Dr. Bernard Boulanger, UK HealthCare’s chief medical officer.

The collaboration will enable more Kentucky children to receive care closer to home, UK officials said.

The University of Louisville has a pediatric cardiac surgery program at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville.

UK’s pediatric cardiac surgery program was suspended in 2012 after an uptick in child mortality rates. An internal review of the program never identified actual problems, but said better support and nursing care would be needed for complex surgeries, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.

Dr. Michael Karpf, UK executive vice president for health affairs, said UK was committed to reopening the program only when it was confident of providing the best care possible.

“We are confident that this collaborative arrangement meets that mark with the highest quality surgical and clinical care,” Karpf said.

Working with Cincinnati Children’s, UK will team with one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals and a premier pediatric heart care program, Boulanger said. Budget details are still being worked out to return services to UK, he said.

“We are certainly committed to investing in this program to ensure that it is a very high-quality program,” he said.

Under terms of the proposed partnership, a heart surgeon will be jointly recruited and have a primary appointment at Cincinnati Children’s in a “two sites, one program” model. The surgeon will be based in Lexington and perform services at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, UK said. Also, a director of the pediatric heart program will be recruited to oversee the program. The director will be based in Lexington and serve as a liaison for both sites, UK said.

Once the program is operational, a team of doctors from both hospitals will direct patients to Kentucky Children’s or Cincinnati Children’s. Initially, more complex cases will be sent to Cincinnati Children’s, UK said. As the Lexington program matures, more complex procedures may be performed at UK.

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