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41% of California hospitals graded C or lower on patient safety

The Leapfrog Group issues a national report card aimed at prodding hospitals to end thousands of preventable injuries and deaths.

June 06, 2012|By Chad Terhune, Los Angeles Times

More than 40% of California hospitals received a grade of C or lower on patient safety in a new national report card aimed at prodding hospitals to do more to end thousands of preventable injuries and deaths.

The Leapfrog Group, an employer-backed nonprofit group focused on healthcare quality, said it issued these first-ever scores Wednesday so consumers and employers can be aware of poorly performing hospitals before using them. The ratings are available online at http://www.hospitalsafetyscore.org.

Nationwide, 47% of the 2,652 hospitals that were graded received a C or below, including some big-name institutions such as Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

A landmark report from the Institute of Medicine in 1999 said hospital errors caused up to 98,000 deaths and more than 1 million injuries each year. In response, hospitals nationwide embarked on a series of patient-safety initiatives focused on electronic medical records, checklists, hand washing and other strategies.

Despite all that, hospitals have made little progress at protecting patients from harm, said Leah Binder, Leapfrog's president and chief executive. The Washington-based group estimates that 180,000 Americans die annually from hospital accidents, errors and infections.

"If an airline was crashing and killing 400 people every day, we would have made a lot of progress in the last decade," Binder said. "Without public pressure this won't become a top priority for hospital leaders."

Binder said her group was inspired to issue letter grades after seeing how effective and consumer-friendly such ratings have been for restaurant health inspections. The group worked with leading patient-safety experts and analyzed 26 hospital measures looking at infections, medication errors and other relevant data.

In California, Leapfrog graded 264 hospitals and gave a C or lower to 41% of them. It handed out A's to 97 facilities, Bs to 58 and Cs to 83. An additional 26 hospitals ranked even lower. Leapfrog didn't issue a letter grade for them and said it will give those lowest performers until November to show improvement before issuing them a D or F.

Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center was one of those hospitals falling below a C. A spokeswoman for UCLA Health System said that its Santa Monica hospital earned an A and that it's "committed to providing the highest level of quality care and patient safety to each and every individual we treat."

Northridge Hospital Medical Center, owned by nonprofit hospital chain Dignity Health, was another facility that was graded below a C. A spokeswoman said the hospital has implemented "many initiatives to ensure the safety of patient care."

The California Hospital Assn. commended Leapfrog for making safety information more accessible to patients and said its members are making significant strides at eliminating preventable errors.

"There have been improvements and everyone would like to see a faster pace," said David Perrott, the hospital group's chief medical officer. "We believe in transparency, but this is not the end-all, be-all assessment for hospitals."

Some of Southern California's large safety-net hospitals scored well. Both L.A. County/USC Medical Center and White Memorial Medical Center earned a B.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center received an A, and 30 Kaiser Permanente hospitals that were graded all earned an A or B.

David Hopkins, a senior advisor at the Pacific Business Group on Health, a nonprofit business coalition in San Francisco that works with employers, said health plans should be providing these safety scores to all of their customers when they're choosing a hospital.

"I think this is a huge breakthrough for consumers," he said.

Leapfrog's Binder said consumers should look beyond hospital advertising that touts the latest accolades or new medical wing.

"There are some hospitals with a reputation for having excellent quality of care and the latest technology, but they may not have done well on the hospital safety score."

chad.terhune@latimes.com

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