Several Mississippi hospitals received brag-worthy report cards this spring from a national hospital safety watchdog organization.
The nonprofit Leapfrog Group awarded an A-rating to 13 hospitals across the state, 39 percent of the 33 Mississippi hospitals that completed the group’s survey. This places Mississippi hospitals 16th nationally in patient safety.
This is also a dramatic improvement over the past few years. Last spring, Leapfrog gave an A to 12 Mississippi hospitals. In 2015, just two Mississippi hospitals received top marks.
Marcella McKay, chief operating officer at Mississippi Hospital Association, said Mississippi’s rise is the result of a five-year effort to improve hospital safety statewide.
“We love it,” McKay said. “Any time you’re working on something and you begin to reap the results of that work it’s positive because ultimately it’s the patients that benefit from this and it’s the citizens of the state that benefit from this.”
Leapfrog’s report card is intended to make patients aware of how their hospitals perform on key quality measures, from medical errors to hospital-acquired infections, so that patients can make better-informed health care decisions. The scores are updated twice a year, in spring and fall.
More than 350,000 Americans die each year due to hospital-acquired illnesses and injuries, making this the third leading cause of death in the United States, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Patient Safety. Patients are 50 percent more likely to die of an accidental illness or injury at a hospital with a C or D grade, according to Leapfrog.
Of the 33 Mississippi hospitals that Leapfrog graded, five received a B-rating, another 13 received a C, and two received a D. Nationwide the average hospital grade was a C. Mississippi hospitals received a B.
But McKay said the good marks come with a caveat. A large teaching hospital such as University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, which is one of the two hospitals in the state that received a D rating, faces different challenges from Gulfport’s 130-bed Garden Park Medical Center, which received an A.
“(UMMC) is taking care of some of the sickest and most complex illnesses in the state,” McKay said. “We are very careful of comparing one hospital to another. We tend to have a hospital look at its own trends over time. What really matters is if a specific hospital is really getting better at improving quality year after year.”
UMMC is the largest hospital in the state and Mississippi’s only level one trauma care facility. And quality has improved at the hospital. In 2015, Leapfrog gave UMMC an F in patient safety. The hospital lost points in a variety of areas, from hand washing requirements down to surgical mistakes, such as improperly sealed sutures and hospital-acquired infections.
Dr. Michael Henderson, UMMC’s chief medical officer, was hired to improve UMMC’s safety outcomes that same year. He describes that F as a “wake-up call” for the medical center and said quality has steadily improved at the hospital since then.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but you won’t see that for another couple of years,” Henderson said.
Leapfrog’s data comes from two sources. One is a self-reported survey, and the other is data reported by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which can be two years old.
“So we’ll sit in the Ds for another year or two. We might move into the Cs in a few years,” Henderson said. “But the last thing I’ll do is make excuses. The bottom line is these are the things they’ve said what we need to improve.”
Among the issues Leapfrog called out in 2017 are “dangerous blood clots” and “dangerous objects left in patient’s body” following surgery. But UMMC received above average marks in preventative areas, such as hiring enough qualified nurses and doctors specially trained to treat ICU patients.
But hiring adequate staff requires money, something UMMC is very short on this fiscal year. Last month the hospital announced it would have to slash 280 jobs to make up a $24.5 million budget shortfall, the result of cuts to state and Medicaid funding.
But Henderson said he’s confident the medical center can weather these cuts without cutting patient quality.
“Credit to our leadership, the number one message in making cuts was this must not affect the front line in patient care. Quality improvements and safety was the number one priority and it’s not just on paper.”