Norton Audubon Hospital received an A in the spring 2019 round of the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades. | Courtesy of Norton Healthcare

Three Norton hospitals have earned an A in the latest round of safety grades from a national watchdog group, but some other area hospitals remain in D territory.

Norton Audubon, Norton Brownsboro and Norton Women’s & Children’s hospitals all earned the top scores in the Louisville area in the spring 2019 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades.

Those hospitals were followed by B-graded Norton Hospital, which had been an A; Baptist Health Louisville (C); and Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital (C). Both Jewish Hospital and the University of Louisville Hospital received Ds, the area’s lowest scores.

“We’re pleased to see the positive scores earned by all of our adult-service hospitals on The Leapfrog Group’s spring 2019 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade,” said Dr. Steven T. Hester, a division president and system chief medical officer for Norton Healthcare.

“Teams at Norton Healthcare are focused on providing safe and quality care for our patients and constantly monitor ways in which we can improve. This work is reflected in the high grades our facilities received,” Hester stated.

Near Louisville, Baptist Health LaGrange and two Southern Indiana hospitals, Baptist Health Floyd in New Albany and Clark Memorial Health in Jeffersonville, all received Cs.

The Leapfrog Group issues grades, ranging from A through F, for general, acute-care hospitals across the country twice a year. (It also ranks states. Kentucky is 33rd and Indiana is 36th.)

The hospital grades are based on the facilities’ patient safety track records, namely how well they protect consumers and their families from errors, injuries, accidents and infections.

The grades are intended to empower consumers. “Hospitals don’t all have the same track record, so it really matters which hospital people choose, which is the purpose of our Hospital Safety Grade,” Leapfrog President Leah Binder said in a news release.

There are about 160,000 lives lost each year due to the kind of avoidable medical errors that Leapfrog considers, but that’s significantly improved from 2016 when researchers estimated 205,000 avoidable deaths, according to Leapfrog.

“The good news is that tens of thousands of lives have been saved because of progress on patient safety,” said Binder, who’s also Leapfrog’s chief executive. “The bad news is that there’s still a lot of needless death and harm in American hospitals.”

Of more than 2,600 hospitals graded across the country, 32 percent received As and 26 percent received Bs. Cs went to 36 percent of the hospitals and Ds were earned by 6 percent. Less than 1 percent received an F.

Consumers can look up how the graded hospitals did on nearly 30 measures. Color-coded gauges show how each hospital performed — from below average to above average — on the various measures.

Jewish Hospital serves many of the city’s uninsured and underinsured residents. | Photo by Tony Pacheco

For example, Jewish Hospital, which is up for sale with several other properties, is in the red zone (below average) on five different measures related to infections. Those include MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and urinary tract infections, death from serious treatable complications, patient falls and injuries, and several other things. But they’re in the good green zone (above average) for a few things like the number of bedsores and split surgical wounds.

Another D hospital, University of Louisville, which used to be managed by KentuckyOne Health, has many of the same issues. It’s below average on four out of five infection measures. But it also has a few bright spots like evaluating nursing staff levels, staff working together to prevent errors, and doctors using a computer to order medications.

Some of the data used for the Leapfrog grades dates back to 2015 while others is more recent, such as 2018.

Dr. Jason Smith, chief medical officer of UofL Hospital, issued a statement, acknowledging quality issues at the facility four years ago and taking issue with the grade.

“We have reviewed our (publicly) reported data since July 2017, and utilizing the Leapfrog Group’s own calculator for scoring with that data, our calculated grade would have been a C,” Smith said. “This improvement is in line with what we anticipated our ranking would be at this point when we re-assumed oversight of our hospital in July 2017.”

Smith also said the hospital is dedicated to performing better.  “Regardless of our score, we will never be satisfied with anything other than providing top quality patient care and continually striving to improve our service to our patients and our community as a whole.”

The University of Louisville recently has been trying to find a partner to buy Jewish Hospital and various other Louisville medical facilities affiliated with KentuckyOne Health and the former Catholic Health Initiatives (now CommonSpirit Health with Dignity Health).

When asked to comment on safety grades for Jewish Hospital and Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital, KentuckyOne Health stressed in a statement that it’s committed to delivering high-quality and safe care.

KentuckyOne Health’s statement also noted, “the current Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade for some of our hospitals does not adequately reflect the complex nature of cases and the high-risk population served.”

In addition, it said, the methodology draws from older data.

“Several quality and safety initiatives underway have shown more recent improvements in our current metrics and we believe they will translate into improved safety grades in the future,” KentuckyOne Health stated.

A statement released on behalf of Baptist Health Louisville, Baptist Health Floyd and Baptist Health LaGrange, said: “We don’t feel these grades are a complete or timely reflection of the excellent care we provide to patients. Leapfrog is one of many organizations providing ratings to hospitals. It is often confusing to patients and providers to know how to interpret them as data is often several years old.”

Furthermore, “across our facilities, Baptist Health has many quality, safety and patient satisfaction initiatives underway to continue to improve the quality of care delivered to all our patients,” the statement said. “We have a commitment to patient safety and that includes continuous improvement through a culture of clinical excellence.”

Clark Memorial Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This story has been updated with responses from University of Louisville Hospital and various Baptist Health facilities as well as some information on the years of the data used by Leapfrog.

Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.