December 2, 2021

Guthrie hospital disputes group’s ‘D’ rating

Guthrie Cortland Medical Center Logo

Last week, Guthrie Cortland Medical Center got a D, according to the LeapFrog Group, a nonprofit health care rating agency, a drop from last year’s C grade.

About 8% of rated hospitals receive a D, said LeapFrog spokeswoman Christine Diven; 1% of rated hospitals receive an F.

However, Guthrie Cortland does not participate in the rating system, and because of this LeapFrog’s evaluation is based on incomplete data, said Michael Scalzone, executive vice president of medical affairs for the Guthrie Medical Group.

“The safety of our patients is Guthrie’s highest priority,” said Scalzone in a statement. “There are many different rating systems available to health consumers including Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, Healthgrades and US News and World Report. Each of these organizations reviews different data sets to make their assessments.”

According to Mark Webster, the hospital’s former president who retired in April, many hospitals and health professionals do not regard LeapFrog as a credible rating agency. A statewide health association report Tuesday gives the Leapfrog analysis only two of five stars.

“LeapFrog uses very outdated data,” Webster said.

This year, LeapFrog rated Guthrie Cortland below the average performing hospital in eight out of 28 categories.

The lowest individual score is 5 out of 100 for “specially trained doctors care for ICU patients.” The average rating was 55.61. The data behind this source, however, is attributed to “supplemental data source” and is dated 2017.

Some of other low-performing categories are “collapsed lung” and “serious breathing problem.”
Data for these categories is taken from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2018 — well before Guthrie
took over the hospital Jan. 1.

But the D rating does not address several areas — regarding safe medication administration
and hand-washing, for instance — because the hospital did not provide data. LeapFrog lists 11
categories out of 28 for Guthrie Cortland for which data was not available or not provided.

The LeapFrog Group “is a nonprofit watchdog organization that serves as a voice for healthcare purchasers, using their collective influence to foster positive change in U.S. health care,” according to the group’s web site.

But what do the grades issued by LeapFrog mean, and how credible are they?

The data compiled by LeapFrog comes from a number of sources, Diven said. Some of it is
reported by hospitals, other data is culled from public sources.

If a hospital does not provide information to LeapFrog, that lack of data “does not count
against them,” Diven said.

But Webster takes issue with LeapFrog’s reliance on hospitals to self-report data.

“There’s a lot of discretion in how hospitals can fill that out,” he said.

Also, ratings tend to vary widely from hospital to hospital, and these ratings don’t always
match ratings given by other agencies, he said.

“Many of the hospitals declined to participate because they don’t feel that LeapFrog has credibility as a group,” Webster said. “There’s just a lot of weaknesses with the LeapFrog data.”

According to a report Tuesday by the Healthcare Association of New York State, many of the
hospital rating agencies, including LeapFrog, “provide conflicting information and produce
dramatically different ratings.”

The association wrote the recent report to address health professional concerns that rating
agencies’ criteria are not consistent, said Darren Dopp, its senior vice president of corporate communications.

“The scores can vary quite a bit,” Dopp said. Moreover, Dopp said simple letter grades or stars oversimplify the evaluation.

“A hospital health system isn’t a restaurant or a movie that can be reviewed with stars or a
grade,” he said.

The HANYS report, “Report on Report Cards,” rates the various rating agencies. LeapFrog gets two out of five stars. Two of the more prominent ratings reports, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Hospital Compare system and and the Health Profile ratings provided by the state Department of Health, both got three out of five stars, or average ratings, by HANYS.

Both of these agencies give Guthrie Cortland average marks. The CMS rating system gives
Guthrie Cortland three out of five stars.

The state Department of Health does not give overall ratings for hospital, but many of the individual categories for Guthrie Cortland receive average ratings.