A national hospital watchdog group has again ranked Maine’s hospitals the safest in the country.
Eighty percent, or 16 out of 20, Maine hospitals earned an “A” in the Hospital Safety Score ratings released Wednesday by the Leapfrog Group, a national patient safety organization.
Maine edged out Massachusetts for the No. 1 spot. Maine also topped the list earlier this year, when the rankings were last updated in May.
The letter grades reflect the risk that a patient could be harmed by a preventable medical error while hospitalized. Leapfrog, a nonprofit funded by employers, assigns A, B, C, D and F grades to more than 2,500 U.S. hospitals.
Leapfrog urged patients to use the rankings to protect themselves from errors, accidents, injuries and infections at hospitals. Up to 440,000 Americans die annually from preventable hospital errors, making such errors the third leading cause of death in the U.S., Leapfrog said in a press release, citing new research published in the Journal of Patient Safety.
That figure is four times the estimate of a widely cited but dated Institute of Medicine study, which said up to 98,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors.
“We are burying a population the size of Miami every year from medical errors that can be prevented,” Leah Binder, Leapfrog’s president and CEO, said in a press release announcing the new scores. “A number of hospitals have improved by one or even two grades, indicating hospitals are taking steps toward safer practices, but these efforts aren’t enough.”
On average, hospitals nationally showed no improvement in their performance on the 28 patient safety measures included in the score. The exception was hospital adoption of computerized physician order entry, in which health practitioners electronically enter instructions for patients’ treatment.
Leapfrog assesses public data on measures including falls, bed sores and how consistently hospitals follow recommended treatment protocols, such as administering antibiotics to patients within an hour before surgery.
Two new measures were added to the scores this fall: catheter-associated urinary tract infections and surgical site infections after major colon procedures.
Leapfrog rates only general hospitals. Specialty hospitals, such as cancer centers, and critical access hospitals, which serve rural areas, are not included.
In Maine, three hospitals saw their grades drop from this spring, while two moved up in the rankings.
MaineGeneral’s Augusta campus dropped from a B to a C, while its Waterville campus fell from an A to a C. St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor earned a C, a downgrade from an A in the May rankings.
Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington improved from a B to an A, while York Hospital moved up to an A from a C.
All the other Maine hospitals graded earned A’s.
“We’re most pleased with the consistency of the reviews of our hospitals’ high quality care,” Jeff Austin, vice president of government affairs and communications for the Maine Hospital Association, said in an email.
Austin credited frontline caregivers and added that the quality division of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also ranked hospital care in Maine the best in the country.
“Never-ending state and federal cuts imperil this success,” he wrote.
But even top-performing hospitals still have room to make patients safer, Binder said.
“Getting an A is not an end point, it’s a beginning point, and hospitals should be looking at everything they can do to improve,” she said during a press call about the new scores.
Of the 2,539 hospitals issued a Hospital Safety Score, 813 earned an “A,” 661 earned a “B,” 893 earned a “C,” 150 earned a “D” and 22 earned an “F.”
Neighboring New Hampshire was among the states with the smallest percentage of A hospitals, along with Arkansas, Nebraska and New Mexico.
Some hospital officials have complained about Leapfrog’s methods, saying they suspected they were penalized for failing to participate in Leapfrog’s voluntary surveys, which the group incorporates in its assessments. Leapfrog has said that participation has no bearing on a hospital’s grade and that the organization is proud of its transparent ranking system.
Leapfrog’s scores are part of a growing effort nationally to help consumers become better-informed health care shoppers. The federal government also is looking more closely at patient safety data, making a push through Medicare and Medicaid to pay health care providers based on the quality of care they offer.
A number of nonprofit groups and companies have begun offering rankings on hospital quality. Consumer Reports also rates the safety of hospitals, while U.S. News and World Report singles out hospitals as national and regional leaders for certain types of care and procedures.
Each outfit devises its own criteria and scoring formulas, so hospitals may perform well on one while flopping on another. For instance, Consumer Reports tabulates the number of patients who are readmitted to the hospital shortly after being discharged, while Leapfrog doesn’t.
Take Bangor’s St. Joseph Hospital, which fell to a C in Leapfrog’s new rankings while nearby Eastern Maine Medical Center earned an A. In the Consumer Reports ranking, St. Joseph bested EMMC.
To view hospital grades and their performance on each measure, visit hospitalsafetyscore.org.