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Federal ratings show WNY hospitals have plenty of room for improvement

Information is power, and Western New York’s hospitals should welcome the chance to empower patients and their families.

Still, some hospital officials are questioning the federal government’s five-star rating system. The overall score is based on 64 measures the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services collects on infections, complications, deaths and timeliness of care, among other categories.

The ratings condense dozens of quality measures into a star rating that, as News medical reporter Henry L. Davis explained, allows consumers to compare hospitals.

Just as last year, Western New York hospitals did not fare well, ranking, at best, average. Major teaching hospitals and hospital systems in Buffalo, in particular, fared poorly. That included 2-star ratings for Kaleida Health, Erie County Medical Center and Mercy Hospital.

Of 17 hospitals rated in the region, 11 received two stars and six received three stars. None received four or five stars. And of the 4,599 hospitals rated, a mere 2.2 percent, or 102 facilities, received five stars. Slightly more than 20 percent of the hospitals did not report sufficient information to get an overall score.

The sole hospital in New York State to receive five stars was the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. The ratings are publicly available and updated regularly.

Hospitals tended to score well in some areas, poorly in others. Erie County Medical Center performed better than the national benchmark for catheter-associated urinary tract infections but had a wait of 237 minutes, compared with the national average of 174 minutes, for emergency room patients.

Kaleida Health scored below the national benchmark for surgical site infections but did better than the national benchmark for central-line bloodstream infections.

Mercy Hospital did worse than the national rate when it came to stroke death rate. However, its rate of readmission after a discharge was better than the national rate.

Many kinds of information on hospitals are out there. In a separate ranking of hospitals released by U.S. News & World report, only Kaleida Health’s Buffalo General Medical Center scored a high mark, tying for 15th-best hospital in the state.

Back in 1995, the Niagara Health Quality Coalition, an independent group that produces a hospital report card, published results for every hospital in the region. The coalition offered assistance to the federal government with the development of many key measures in the star rating system.

Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stressed that a low rating does not mean patients will receive poor care. That statement bears repeating.

Some hospital officials criticize the star system as too simplistic. Larger hospitals and teaching hospitals tend to have more complex cases. That may lower scores and put those hospitals at a disadvantage compared with facilities with a different patient population. If hospitals can show that the quality measures do not provide an accurate rating, the system should continue to be tweaked. But the ratings offer an opportunity for consumers to make more informed decisions.

Low ratings should spur hospitals to examine their operations to find ways to improve and to achieve everyone’s ultimate goal: high-quality patient care.

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