Hospitals in New Jersey continue to report lower infection rates, fewer errors and accidents, and improved methods to keep patients safe and appropriately informed, according to the latest report from a national watchdog organization. But the state still hasn’t regained its original standing in the biannual Hospital Safety Grade issued by the Leapfrog Group.
More than one-third of the Garden State facilities that shared data with Leapfrog received “A’s” on the Fall 2016 report, a slight increase over the spring scores. This change helped lift New Jersey from 22nd nationwide to 17th, tied with Texas, for the percentage of hospitals with top grades. (These standings reflect care both in New Jersey and the impact of changes in other states, Leapfrog notes.)
While Leapfrog’s methodology has evolved — and sparked some controversy in the process — certain healthcare facilities have scored well since 2013, the year after the nonprofit patient advocate launched the review. Jersey City Medical Center and Saint Barnabas Medical Center, both now run by RWJ/Barnabas, and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center have received straight A’s all along.
Other facilities have struggled to elevate their scores. Saint Michael’s Medical Center, owned by the for-profit chain Prime Healthcare, Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, another for-profit operation, and University Hospital, a state-owned facility affiliated with Rutgers, have received Cs, Ds, and even an F in recent years.
Leapfrog examined data from 68 acute-care hospitals across the state and assigned letter grades A through D and F, as part of its review of more than 2,600 facilities nationwide. The organization considers dozens of factors in its assessment, including the rates of common infections like MRSA and C. diff; surgical problems like blood clots or open wounds; preventative protocols like hand-washing and tracking medications; safety issues like patient falls or bed sores; and staffing issues, including patient ratios, specialty training, and communication.
Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder said the data can help patients make informed choices and assist advocates seeking to improve the larger healthcare system. “We believe everyone has the right to know which hospitals are the safest and encourage community members to call on their local hospitals to change, and on their elected officials to spur them to action,” she said. “States that put a priority on safety have shown remarkable improvements.”
Observers note that direct comparisons to years past are difficult, as Leapfrog adjusted its methodology in 2016 to include input from patients, provided through standard consumer-assessment surveys, and factor in key infection rates. Those changes helped account for the decline in New Jersey’s overall standing; in the past, it had amassed enough A grades to rank fifth nationwide.
“It’s gone up a little bit since last time, but it’s still not as great as where we where when we started,” said Amanda Mellilo, chief of staff at the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, who leads the organization’s work on Leapfrog. “New Jersey was usually in the top ten.”
Linda Schwimmer, the Quality Institute’s president and CEO, suggested this trend of “creeping upwards” would continue. “I’m just speculating, but I think that this shows that as our hospitals become more familiar with the new methodology they are becoming more focused on it and more focused on doing well at it,” she said.
Overall, nearly 37 percent of New Jersey’s hospitals received A grades, compared to 32 percent nationwide. Just over 22 percent scored a B this time, versus 25 percent in the United States as a whole. The nearly 37 percent that received a C tracks closely with the nationwide numbers and the Garden State received fewer D’s — 4.4 percent versus 6 percent — and no F’s this fall, compared to .8 percent nationwide.