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Pittsburgh hospitals miss 5-star ranking in patient experience

| Thursday, April 16, 2015, 11:01 p.m.
Monongahela Valley Hospital
Monongahela Valley Hospital in Monongahela is among four near Pittsburgh to capture four stars in the ratings detailed at HCAHPSonline.org.

Five-star meals can complement a five-star hotel stay in Pittsburgh, where entertainers stage the occasional five-star show.

Just don't expect to see five stars for the patient experience in the city's hospitals, all of which fell short of top scores in federal rankings released Thursday.

No acute-care hospital in Pennsylvania notched five stars in the Hospital Compare ratings, although Advanced Surgical Hospital in Washington joined seven other specialty facilities in the state to capture the mark.

Across Western Pennsylvania, several independent community hospitals outpaced urban medical centers when patients evaluated communication, cleanliness, responsiveness and other factors. The rankings, based on hospital-administered patient surveys analyzed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, do not address the medical effectiveness of treatments.

“Our motto is that we treat our patients like they were our mothers: Is this the care you would want for your mother? If the answer is no, we have to make changes,” said Donna Ramusivich, a senior vice president at Monongahela Valley Hospital.

The hospital is among four near Pittsburgh to capture four stars in the ratings detailed at HCAHPSonline.org.

Only 251 of 3,553 hospitals rated nationwide received five stars. They include hospitals that are part of the highly-regarded Mayo Clinic system. Some of the nation's best known hospitals, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, were among the 40 percent with three stars.

Of facilities run by Allegheny Health Network and Downtown-based UPMC, the region's largest hospital networks, only UPMC Bedford Memorial in Everett got four stars.

“We continue to be dedicated to making every patient's experience as good as it can be, and we applaud CMS for its ongoing efforts to make this information understandable and accessible to consumers and patients,” UPMC chief quality officer Tami Minnier said in a statement.

At North Side-based Allegheny Health, spokesman Dan Laurent said nothing is more important than the quality of care, “both in terms of (patients') experience and the outcomes that they achieve.” He noted the rating system “is limited in its scope to one measurement of quality,” but said patient satisfaction “is a critical performance metric that we focus intently on.”

CMS said it will update the ratings quarterly.

UPMC and other hospital systems often use marketing materials to highlight their rankings, including quality measures published by U.S. News & World Report. Unlike the magazine's lists, which rely on federal statistics such as death rates, the star system utilizes only patient surveys.

Tagging hospitals with stars makes it easy for incoming patients to use that feedback, said Patrick Conway, an acting principal deputy administrator at CMS.

“These star ratings also encourage hospitals and clinicians to strive to continuously improve the patient experience and quality of care,” Dr. Conway said.

Based on patient feedback from July 2013 to June, the ratings fit into a program formed in 2006 to gauge how patients feel about their health care, according to CMS. Surveys center on nursing homes and dialysis facilities, among other services.

But it's not clear whether the hospital surveys give any sense of how well patients fare, said David E. Williams, co-founder of Health Business Group consulting firm in Boston. He expects the star scores will improve in time.

“I wouldn't be scared to go to a hospital that has an average or slightly above-average score. I wouldn't pick just the top one,” Williams said.

He said he might avoid or ask more questions of hospitals with low marks from the surveys. When picking hospitals, patients should look beyond the star ratings and consider how well others recovered from similar medical problems at facilities, Williams said.

At St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, chief nursing officer Joan Massella said such rankings are important to patients, even though they “still tend to follow their physicians.” St. Clair received four stars in Hospital Compare.

“Our employees understand that the far majority of patients don't want to be in a hospital. They're there because they're having a crisis in their life,” Massella said. Workers “really try to show the compassion and understanding that any of us would want to have.”

Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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