Sebastian hospital safety rating falls; downgraded to ‘C’

After a remarkable recovery, jumping from an F safety grade in 2018 to an A this past April, Sebastian River Medical Center has circled back to a C – the same grade it had when Steward Health bought the hospital in 2017.

The C was announced last week by the national hospital ratings organization Leapfrog Group, which aims to promote hospital safety with its semi-annual report card.

Neighboring hospitals’ scores remained unchanged: a B grade for Cleveland Clinic Indian River and a C for Palm Bay Hospital.

Sebastian River’s latest grade makes the A from last spring as much an outlier in the hospital’s rating history as the F it got in spring 2018 – one of only two F grades in the state and 22 in the nation. Apart from those extremes, the hospital has wallowed in C’s and D’s since 2016.

Other local hospitals appear to be putting less emphasis on the Leapfrog scores, answering fewer questions on the Leapfrog voluntary survey, as was the case with Cleveland Clinic Indian River; or not responding at all, as with Health First-owned hospitals in Brevard County.

The area’s two Level 2 trauma centers had mixed showings. Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce did fill out a Leapfrog survey and got a B grade. Holmes Regional Medical Center in Melbourne did not complete a survey and based on other data, was awarded a D.

Leapfrog does not charge hospitals to participate in its survey or letter grade calculations, though it does charge a fee for hospitals to use the grade in marketing.

For Sebastian River, though, publicity about the F grade last year was free – and unwanted. Departing hospital president Kyle Sanders, who resigned last month, felt strongly that widespread news reports about the F grade kept patients away in 2018. He also believed the turnaround to an A would be followed by an uptick in admissions, which he said finally materialized in the quarter ending Sept. 30.

Data from the state’s Agency for Healthcare Administration confirmed significantly lower patient volumes in the year of the F grade, 2018, but not the uptick Sanders claimed.

Sebastian River’s latest grade – the C – is the first to rely mostly on data collected entirely on Steward’s watch. Prior grades – both the A and F – still reflected data from the period before Steward bought the hospital

After the latest C grade, neither Steward nor SRMC is throwing in the towel.

“Sebastian River Medical Center received a Leapfrog A-grade last spring, and we will not be satisfied until we continuously receive A-grades moving forward,” Steward Health’s chief medical officer, Dr. Joseph Weinstein said in an email to Vero Beach 32963.

“We are doubling down on our commitment to patient safety and have made some critical adjustments in recent months.”

Weinstein gave as an example the hiring of a new intensivist, or critical care doctor, in the ICU – a physician “who meets all Leapfrog criteria as Board Certified and Fellowship trained in Critical Care medicine.”

“Additionally, Sebastian River recently hired two new quality coordinators who are already driving significant performance improvement,” said Weinstein. “We expect to once again achieve an A in the next Leapfrog report.”

Leapfrog uses 27 measures to calculate a safety grade, which is then assigned on a curve with other hospitals in the region.

Much of the data comes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, while other information comes from the voluntary survey, which Leapfrog claims to independently verify. If a hospital doesn’t submit data in the survey, Leapfrog tries to get the information from secondary sources.

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