Beaufort County's three local hospitals all ranked near the middle of the pack in a national hospital safety survey released last week, but officials from all three said their scores aren't indicative of the quality of their institutions.
Still, all three are taking steps to improve patient safety and hospital practices that likely will improve their scores when the next Hospital Safety Score survey is released next spring.
Beaufort Memorial, Coastal Carolina, and Hilton Head hospitals all received C grades in the fall 2015 update of the Hospital Safety Score. The scores, which are released bi-annually by non-profit organization Leapfrog Media Group, use Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data and a voluntary survey from the hospitals to compile their rankings, said Leapfrog Media vice president for hospital ratings Missy Danforth.
Leapfrog, which has issued scores to hospitals eight times over the past four years, creates a composite score for each hospital looking at the processes each has in place to prevent errors and limit patient complications that may develop such as infections, Danforth said.
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Hospitals with low or average grades can still earn high scores in many of the categories, but if the score is lower than the national average, it is still considered a detriment to the overall grade, Danforth said.
While officials for all three hospitals said the Leapfrog score is one of the metrics they use to determine areas to improve, they were all critical of the grades they received. Each pointed to several accolades it had received recently as proof of the hospital's quality.
Coastal Carolina Hospital CEO Bradley Talbert said the score did "not reflect our commitment to provide high-quality care," pointing to recent recognitions from other organizations the hospital had received. Talbert also said Coastal Carolina had the best elective C-section rate in the state, according to Leapfrog's grades.
"We are proud of the steps we have taken to achieve quality care for all patients and that have helped us earn numerous, notable recognitions," he said.
Hilton Head Hospital spokeswoman Kelly Presnell said the hospital was not satisfied with their score in the Leapfrog survey, but that the hospital used the grade and other rating systems to continually improve processes and patient care.
Presnell said the hospital participates in the Carolina Center for Medical Excellence and the S.C. Hospital Association's initiative to stop catheter-associated urinary tract infections, one of the categories evaluated in the Leapfrog program. It also an has in-house antimicrobial program and participates in the SCHA's Safe Surgery Project, she said.
The Hospital Safety Score can also hinge on personnel and hospital staffing, as Beaufort Memorial Hospital found out.
Chief medical officer Dr. Kurt Gambla said the hospital's grade was primarily due to their scores in the intensive care unit staffing category. Because Beaufort Memorial does not have a full time intensive care specialist, the hospital received a below-average grade in that category, he said.
The hospital is now recruiting a full-time ICU specialist, a move that will likely improve its score when the new rankings are released next spring.
Beaufort Memorial quality director Shawna Doran said the hospital has also created committees that would tackle issues evaluated by the Hospital Safety Score, such as patient falls and preventing bed sores. The hospital has also hired a patient safety officer to address many of those processes and conditions outlined in the grade, she said.
The hospitals were also critical of the data used to create the hospital grades.
Officials for all three said the way the Leapfrog score is calculated -- reliant primarily on CMS data that can be a year to two old by the time the score is released -- makes it difficult to accurately assess their progress.
Danforth said not all of the categories evaluated in the Hospital Safety Score are updated in the same timeframe; some may be updated quarterly, while others may only be reported once a year.
Leapfrog has urged CMS to update their reporting data more frequently so the non-profit group can more accurately assess if a hospital is improving with each score, she said.
"There are some limitations to the Hospital Safety Score, but we don't ignore any data," Gambla said. "There are a lot of things we measure every day that are more detailed, but we don't rely on any tool as a standalone ... . We're always looking for ways to improve, making sure our patients get the best care here."
Hospital safety score
To check the scores for local hospitals in Leapfrog Media Group's Hospital Safety Score, go to http://www.hospitalsafetyscore.org
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.