Watchdog report: Northland hospitals graded on safetyHospitals in the Northland aren’t at the head of the class when it comes to safety, according to a report released this week by a national watchdog organization.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Hospitals in the Northland aren’t at the head of the class when it comes to safety, according to a report released this week by a national watchdog organization.
Using data from various sources, the nonprofit Leapfrog Group assigned a single letter grade to many of the nation’s hospitals. In the Northland, Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center and Essentia Health Duluth both got Bs. St. Luke’s hospital, Virginia Regional Medical Center and Fairview University Medical Center-Mesabi all got Cs.
Seventeen of the 46 hospitals in Minnesota that were rated earned As.
Leah Binder, chief executive officer of the Leapfrog Group, said institutions with lower scores were given a “grade pending” designation. But Ds and Fs will be given out, if necessary, when the next score comes out in November.
The purpose is to reduce the 180,000 deaths that occur annually from hospital errors and injuries by calling attention to hospitals that have strong safety records and to those that don’t, Leapfrog’s website says.
No Wisconsin hospitals in the Northland were graded.
The Leapfrog Group used the already-available Hospitals Compare website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for much of its data. It also gathered additional information via its own survey of hospital safety. But only 11 of the 145 hospitals in the Minnesota Hospital Association responded to that survey, said Wendy Burt, the association’s vice president for communication and marketing.
The 15 measures from Hospitals Compare include such items as the frequency of pressure ulcers, falls and accidental cuts and tears from treatment occurring in patients. Those data were available for all of the hospitals in the report. An additional 13 measures were used only to further evaluate the hospitals that chose to respond to the Leapfrog survey, Binder said. Hospitals weren’t downgraded if they didn’t respond.
Mark Sonneborn, a Minnesota Hospital Association vice president, downplayed the significance of Leapfrog’s letter grades. Only small variations in numbers could affect the grades, he said.
Vicky Korynta, chief operating officer at Fairview-Mesabi in Hibbing, agreed.
“We feel like there’s very little difference between a C and an A,” Korynta said.
John Strange, president and CEO of St. Luke’s, found the letter grades puzzling, he said.
“We can’t figure out how they got there,” Strange said. “If you look at our numbers in comparison to some of our friends up the street (Essentia Health), the difference between organizations is minor.”
Binder disagreed, saying an A score meant the hospital was well above average in safety, a B meant it was at average or somewhat above, and a C actually indicated below-average performance.
Although the report’s intent wasn’t to create a hospital-by-hospital comparison, “I would say in general the Bs are safer than the Cs,” Binder said.
Both St. Luke’s and Essentia typically are well above average in other measures of quality and health, Strange said.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of work we do each and every day to track the patients and the outcomes and infection rates and surgeries and all kinds of things,” he said. “And then you have folks like this come in and give you a C, and you go: ‘Where did that come from?’ ”
Dr. Jeff Lyon, Essentia Health’s patient safety officer, said the letter grade was an “oversimplification of an extremely complex set of information. But if that’s what it takes people to understand where we are and what we need to do, I think it’s worthwhile.”
Essentia knows its safety record can be improved, Lyon said.
“We need to make improvements in our processes,” he said. “We are continuing to have particular problems with patient falls in the hospital, and we are working pretty diligently to get that improved.”
The Hospitals Compare website shows that Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center has a fall and injury rate of 0.433 per 1,000 patient discharges, better than the national average of 0.564. But the rate at Essentia Health Duluth is 1.507.
The lesson of the Leapfrog Group’s report is that patients should ask questions about safety, Binder said.
If a doctor refers a patient to a hospital that has less than an A grade, the patient should ask her doctor what that hospital is doing to improve its safety record, Binder added.
“Doctors have enormous clout, and they’re concerned about safety,” she said.
But patients shouldn’t draw conclusions from just one report, Korynta contended.
“We realize it’s just one piece of the puzzle,” she said. “And we hope consumers also realize it’s one piece to a very big puzzle.”