Report: 4 Of 6 Southern Colorado Hospitals Score Low When It Comes To Patient Safety

Jun 6, 2019

A new report gives several hospitals in Southern Colorado low grades when it comes to patient safety. Of the six hospitals in the region included in the report, four were given grades of 'C' or 'D'.

"It's who's safer than the other. It's not an absolute score that says that the 'A's' are perfect. That means that no matter what hospital you go to, you have to pay attention and make sure that those errors and accidents don't happen to you." - Leah Binder, CEO Leapfrog Group

UC Health Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs received a 'C'. St. Mary Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo also received a 'C' grade. San Luis Valley Health's Regional Medical Center in Alamosa was given a 'D' as was Pueblo’s Parkview Medical Center. St. Francis Medical Center and Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs were given 'As'.

The ratings were determined by the nonprofit Leapfrog Group using data from the federal government and, in some cases, voluntary information reported from the hospitals themselves. The data is released every six months. CEO Leah Binder says no hospital in the country is perfectly safe, adding that even top graded hospitals make mistakes.

“What we say about our grades is that ‘A’ hospitals are safer than ‘B’ hospitals [which] are safer than ‘C.’ and ‘C’ hospitals are safer than ‘Ds’ and ‘Fs’. It's basically that simple,” Binder explained. “It's who's safer than the other. It’s not an absolute score that says that the ‘As’ are perfect. That means that no matter what hospital you go to you have to pay attention and make sure that those errors and accidents don't happen to you.”

The report looks at 27 measures, including infection rates, problems with surgeries, patient falls and handwashing.

Some hospitals have raised questions about Leapfrog’s methodology, including the accuracy of the voluntary survey. In 2017, Saint Anthony Hospital in Chicago sued Leapfrog over its ‘C’ grade, saying the grade was “wrong” and based on incorrect data. That suit was later dismissed.

A few hospitals in Southern Colorado have persistent questions and concerns about the report.

Dan Weaver, spokesman for UC Health Memorial Hospital, said Leapfrog compares apples to oranges. 

“For hospitals like Memorial that choose to not participate in the survey itself, Leapfrog goes out and they pull data from other sources — often resulting in incorrect or older data being compared against unverified data self-reported from other hospitals,” he said.

UC Health Memorial Hospital has consistently been given a 'C' grade by Leapfrog. Officials with the hospital dispute the rankings.Credit / Leapfrog GroupEdit | Remove

Weaver said that Memorial Hospital participates in several national quality programs and databases, comparing results with thousands of other hospitals.

“Those other programs show that Memorial’s quality rankings are among the top 10-25 percent in the nation with excellent patient outcomes. We've really chosen to focus our resources, including the time of our quality department staff, on some other quality programs including Vizient, IBM Watson, CMS and U.S. News and World Report,” he said, disputing Leapfrog’s 'C' rating. “The Leapfrog survey does not help us understand our performance in a way that helps drive quality improvements for our patients.”  

In response to Weaver’s criticism of the company’s methodology, Leapfrog Group’s Binder said there is an intensive verification process including random on-site hospital visits by independent reviewers. The data for hospitals that choose to opt out of the the survey comes mostly from the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, she said.

Binder also said her organization strives to alert patients to problems in hospitals and keep them in the loop about possible dangers. And, from her perspective, Binder said the hospital safety grades have had an enormous impact. Anecdotally, she’s hearing from hospitals and health systems that are dedicating resources to aim for an ‘A’.

“We're seeing hospitals that do poorly on the grade really dedicating themselves to getting out from under that low grade and really improving,” she said.

Such is the case at St. Mary Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo.

"It's disingenuous of Leapfrog to essentially hand out grades to students who never signed up for their class." - Jeff Tucker, Parkview Medical Center

CEO Mike Cafasso said his hospitals ‘C’ grade was not a surprise given that there were a few issues voluntarily reported to Leapfrog, specifically a number of infections.

“We monitor this information on a regular basis so we had some idea that it was going to have an impact. It's not something we aspire to in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Cafasso says immediate action was taken in the hiring of a specialized nurse dedicated to inserting central lines.

A graphic showing St. Mary Corwin Medical Center's grades over the past several years as given by Leapfrog Group.
Credit / Leapfrog Group

“We're also are in the process of adopting a protocol for catheter acquired urinary tract infections,” he explained.

Dr. Steven Simerville, Director of Medical Affairs at St. Mary Corwin, said that in the time since the central line nurse was hired, there have been zero central line infections.

While there is enthusiasm to receive a higher grade from Leapfrog at St. Mary Corwin in Pueblo, the remaining low-scoring hospitals in the region say they will place their energies elsewhere.

In a statement from Parkview Medical Center, also in Pueblo, spokesman Jeff Tucker said his organization has “never been interested in participating in this type of patronage system for evaluating our care.” Parkview was given a 'D.'

“It’s disingenuous of Leapfrog to essentially hand out grades to students who never signed up for their class,” Tucker added, emphasizing that Parkview does not participate in the Leapfrog survey.

Parkview Medical Center's 'D' grade is the hospital's lowest grade in recent years, as designated by Leapfrog.
Credit / Leapfrog Group

Tucker said Parkview Medical Center’s standard of care is reflected in “evidence-based certifications for myriad types of care and procedures, including with the Joint Commission, the American College of Cardiologists, the American College of Surgeons, American College of Radiologists and the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Services.”

In a similar statement, Kelly Gallegos, an administrator with San Luis Valley Health in Alamosa, alleged that differences in Leapfrog’s reporting requirements produce large discrepancies in how hospitals are rated.  

“Our focus is on CMS and other state requirements,” she said. “Leapfrog survey questions aren’t sensitive to rural hospitals, including the requirement to have a medical intensivist on shift in the hospital 24/7. This survey does not truly represent the quality of care provided by SLV Health. In the latest release of Leapfrog, our hospital was rated poorly due to our lack of participation.”

Prior to the 'D' grade given this spring, the Regional Medical Center in Alamosa was rated a 'C.'
Credit / Leapfrog Group

The Regional Medical Center in Alamosa was given a 'D.’

Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder said her organization’s stance is that patients “have a right to know whether their hospital is prioritizing their safety, and we encourage all hospitals to be transparent with their data.”

“But if they aren’t we use the data we have.”