Consumer Reports ranks local hospitals top in county

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Peconic Bay Medical Center on Route 58.
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Peconic Bay Medical Center on Route 58 received a high score from Consumer Reports.

Known for rating everything from cars to cribs, Consumer Reports released updated hospital safety ratings last month, giving two East End health care facilities the highest scores in the county.

Southampton Hospital led the county with a score of 58, followed closely by Peconic Bay Medical Center with 56. Both hospitals scored significantly higher than the national average of 49.

Only 10 of Suffolk County’s 13 hospitals were rated by the magazine. Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport was one of the three not included in the report, along with South Oaks Hospital in Amityville and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Northport.

Hospitals across the U.S. are now being rated by Consumer Reports — every six months — on a scale of 1 to 100 points, based on factors such as readmissions, communication and preventable infections.

“Preventable infections,” according to the report, include infections patients contracted after common surgical procedures in 2010; “bloodstream infections” include those patients contracted through the use of central-line catheters in 2011. Central-line catheters are placed in a large vein in a patient’s neck, chest or groin and are used to deliver medications, among other things.

Data for the ratings came from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and state health departments. Information collected by the nonprofit American Hospital Association was also included.

Southampton Hospital did not report a single bloodstream infection in 2011, or any surgical site infections following its 65 surgical procedures in 2010, according to the report.

Peconic Bay reported a single surgical site infection in its 206 surgical procedures in 2010. Information on bloodstream infections at the Riverhead hospital was not cited in the report.

Seventy-nine percent of Southampton’s patients said they were well informed about new medications, according to the report, compared to only 67 percent at Peconic Bay, giving PBMC the lowest rating of any county hospital on that measure.

“PBMC is always looking for ways to improve our culture of safety,” Maureen Ruga, the hospital’s director of quality management, said in a statement responding to questions about the report. “We still have challenges, as evidenced in our scores.”

With an overall safety rating of 40, Stony Brook University Medical Center was rated “worse than average” at avoiding serious complications.

“There is always opportunity for additional improvement for all hospitals, and Stony Brook is committed to continually improving patient safety,” said Carolyn Santora, interim chief quality officer at Stony Brook. “A team of more than 100 nurses, administrators and physicians routinely assesses patient safety issues throughout the hospital so that they can be monitored, trended and addressed as needed.”

Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in Patchogue, which received a 34, and St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, which earned a safety rating of 31, rounded out the lowest scores among Suffolk’s 10 rated hospitals.

But the ratings themselves don’t come without scrutiny.

Although Eastern Long Island Hospital was not included in the magazine’s report, Paul Connor, the hospital’s chief executive officer, said he gives little credence to the ratings.

Companies using the information to compare one hospital to another is not what the government-compiled information was designed for, he said.

“These companies are making a living out of slicing and dicing this, and showing which hospitals are best,” he said. “It’s confusing. People don’t know what to make of it.”

In support of that contention, Mr. Connor noted that in its first hospital safety report, Consumer Reports rated Peninsula Hospital Center in Far Rockaway the second-safest hospital in the region. Peninsula Hospital closed seven months later, in April 2012.

“They were closed for a number of reasons, one was a quality reason,” Mr. Connor said. Peninsula was “unable to stay solvent after its lab failed a state exam and was shut down by the New York State Health Department, which said the lab was dangerous for patients,” according to a New York Times story published May 20, 2012.

Mr. Connor said he suspected Eastern Long Island wasn’t included in the report in part because of its small size.

Consumer Reports’ ratings are only available through a paid subscription to the company’s magazine or website. It is one of several outlets offering hospital safety ratings. Hospital Compare, which is run by the federal government, and the Leapfrog Hospital Survey, run by a nonprofit that rates hospital safety, quality, and efficiency, also offer hospital safety information, but these are free to the public.

Mr. Connor recommends that patients seeking hospital safety information visit the government’s Hospital Compare website, saying the site offers more information to readers than Consumer Reports.

The safety ratings were issued March 21 and include updated ratings for 2,031 of the nation’s 5,724 hospitals. Consumer Reports released its first ratings report in August 2012, rating 1,159 institutions.

In the earlier report, Southampton Hospital placed in the bottom three in the county, with a score of 40, while Peconic Bay led the county with a 59.

Doris Peter, a data analyst with Consumer Reports, said differences between this year’s scores and last year’s can be attributed to updated government information on infections and how Consumer Reports decided to weigh the criteria, giving more weight to preventable infections.

Consumer Reports also dropped mortality rates as a criterion, which had been used in the August 2012 ratings, she said, because the government has stopped providing Consumer Reports with mortality data. Ms. Peter said she was unsure why.

Southampton Hospital made a concerted effort to improve its overall safety, said Dr. Fred Weinbaum, the hospital’s executive vice president and chief medical officer. “Infections are something we have made an effort on, really insisting on following all our protocols,” he said. “The fact that we worked at it and were able to improve we are very proud of.”

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