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More than half of New Jersey's hospitals aced the safety report card issued twice a year by a healthcare watchdog organization, but that doesn't mean patients are completely safe from preventable errors.
Earlier this week, the Leapfrog Group issued its fall report card for general-care hospitals across the country. According to the results released by the Washington, D.C., nonprofit founded by employers whose goal is increasing hospital quality and safety, 35 of 67 New Jersey hospitals scored an A, up from 30 that got the highest grade last spring. Sixteen hospitals improved their ratings, 10 got lower grades while the rest were unchanged. When Leapfrog issued its first report card in Spring 2012, only 23 New Jersey hospitals got an A.
Yet higher grades don't mean a hospital stay free from worry about the kinds of problems Leapfrog is trying to prevent with its.
For instance, according to the site, 110 of 1,000 people who develop a treatable serious complication from surgery died at the average hospital. At New Jersey's A-rated hospitals, those complications ranged from 73 per 1,000 at Hackensack University Hospital to 146 at Cape Regional Medical Center.
As proof that even the safest hospitals make mistakes, Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder said that Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, where an Ebola patient recently died and two nurses wound up contracting the disease, received an A grade.
"Based on the data Leapfrog used in the Hospital Safety Score, Texas Health Presbyterian is among the safer hospitals in the nation," she said. "The recent mishandling of Ebola cases proves that as a country, our hospitals must work harder to become prepared for this and any future threats.”
Binder said hospitals have improved their performance on the 15 processes that Leapfrog measures, including hand hygiene and physician staffing levels in intensive-care units. However, hospital outcomes on some measures, such as preventing surgical site infections in patients who had major colon surgery, have declined.
"There has been a significant increase in hospital efforts to improve safety, but the jury is still out on the results of that effort," Binder said.
According to Leapfrog, 1,000 people die every day in the United States as a result of preventable hospital errors and one of every 25 patients gets an infection while in the hospital.
As a result of an overall improvement in scores in the state, New Jersey's hospital system jumped from seventh safest last spring to fourth safest in the nation. No facility in the state got an F. The lowest grade, a D, was given to St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark.
“We’re delighted to see New Jersey setting a national model for safety and transparency,” said Linda Schwimmer, vice president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute and a member of the Leapfrog board. She added that it's important to make this information publicly available both to help hospitals improve their practices and to make patients better informed. “New Jersey citizens should use every resource available when planning for a hospital visit, including the Hospital Safety Score.”