Two local hospitals get mixed scores for safety

Two local hospitals — Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center and Twin Cities Community Hospital — have received low scores in recently released safety ratings by Consumer Reports.

But in a separate report released in June that used different methods, the hospitals received an A on patient safety measures.

Both reports, however, show there’s room for improvement. Hospital officials say that much of the data used in the reports is one to two years old, and many areas flagged as problems have already been addressed.

Last week, Consumer Reports, which is best known for testing consumer products, released hospital safety rankings for 1,159 hospitals in 44 states.

The Consumer Reports study focused on categories, including: infections; readmissions; how clearly hospital staff explain new medications to patients; complications, such as bedsores or accidental punctures or cuts during surgery; and mortality, which assessed a set of six causes of death in the hospital.

Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria earned a score of 61 — the highest rating of all hospitals in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties and tied for the 12th safest hospital in California, among the 170 hospitals ranked in the state.

Hospitals could earn a top score of 100; the highest-scoring hospital in the country, Billings Clinic in Montana, received a safety score of 72.Sierra Vista in San Luis Obispo was given a score of 32, and Twin Cities in Templeton received a score of 30.

“Our overall message is that hospitals have a lot of work to do,” said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. “When we talk to the 10 best hospitals they uniformly say, hey, we’ve got a lot more to do.”

The ratings include only 18 percent of U.S. hospitals because data on patient harm aren’t reported fully or consistently nationwide, according to the Consumer Reports article in its August edition.

Arroyo Grande Community Hospital and French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo were not included because some data in specific categories were not available.

Sierra Vista received a low score mainly based on its rate of bloodstream infections and use of abdominal scanning, Santa said, citing the report.From April 2010 through the end of March 2011, the hospital reported three bloodstream infections, a rate that is more than twice the national average.

During that time period, the hospital was putting in place new procedures, said Dr. Nicki Edwards, director of clinical quality improvement and risk management.

From January 2011 through September 2011, the rate dropped below the national benchmark, though the exact number of infections during that time period was not available.

The hospital is continuously gathering data to report to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and identifies any problems months before the information becomes publicly available.

“If it’s something that was a concern to us at the time, we’ve dealt with it and improved,” Edwards said.

Despite Marian Medical Center’s high ranking, Consumer Reports also identified areas it could improve, including better communication between staff and patients on new medications.

Twin Cities also received a poor score for its communication, as well as on the proportion of patients who received double abdominal scans, which can expose them to unnecessary radiation.

“We’ve already taken steps generally speaking about communication and making sure we have appropriate utilization of clinical services,” said Nicholas Tejeda, chief operating officer at Twin Cities.

The report used data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Data on infections came from individual states and the Leapfrog Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit whose members include large corporations and public agencies that buy health benefits for their employees.

Another report offers a different picture

A separate report by Leapfrog Group found different outcomes for local hospitals — though it also focused on different factors.

The group assembled a panel of nine patient safety experts and used up to 26 measures looking at injuries, infections and accidents that harm or kill patients in hospitals nationwide. Its scores were issued in a report-card format.

Leapfrog Group awarded A grades to Sierra Vista, French Hospital and Twin Cities.

However, Marian Medical Center received a C in part because of concerns with some practices used to keep patients safe, from hand hygiene to teamwork and skill building.

Marian President Chuck Cova was not available for comment.

But hospital officials for both Tenet Healthcare — which owns Sierra Vista and Twin Cities — and Dignity Health (formerly Catholic Healthcare West) — which owns Arroyo Grande, French and Marian hospitals — pointed to numerous other awards and recognitions the facilities have received.

Sierra Vista spokesman Ron Yukelson added that patients should also consider data from other ratings organizations when researching hospital safety.

“As these reports become more prevalent, it’s important for consumers to recognize that the scoring methods vary by organization and none of them provide a complete representation of the care provided,” Yukelson said.