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University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. The hospital received an "A" safety rating by nonprofit Leapfrog Group, as did Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. The hospital received an "A" safety rating by nonprofit Leapfrog Group, as did Greater Baltimore Medical Center. (BSMG File)

Towson’s two hospitals both received “A” safety ratings from the nonprofit Leapfrog Group for spring 2019, according to the organization's website.

Greater Baltimore Medical Center and University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center both earned top marks for protecting patients from errors and infections. The ratings released in May mark the second time in a row that both hospitals received the top score.

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“I think increasingly, the Leapfrog ratings are becoming the gold standard for which we measure ourselves against other hospitals,” said Dr. Gail Cunningham, chief medical officer at St. Joseph. “To be in that top echelon provides external validation that we are on the right track.”

Carolyn Candiello, vice president for patient quality and safety at GBMC, said the rating is one marker in a continuous process.

“We’re just continuously working on making care better because we want every patient who gets care here to get the care you or I would want for our loved ones,” Candiello said.

The hospital grade system takes into account acute-care hospitals’ performance in various best practices like infection prevention, safe medication administration and staffing levels. According to the Leapfrog Group, 160,000 people die annually in the United States because of errors accounted for in their grading system.

Some 32 percent of the 2,600 hospitals graded received an A, according to the Leapfrog Group, a Washington-based nonprofit that reports hospital performance.

GBMC’s score shows marked improvement from spring of last year, when the hospital received a C grade. The hospital received its first A in the fall of 2018. Leapfrog grades hospitals twice a year.

Candiello said part of that jump was because GBMC made an effort to provide more data to Leapfrog about its safety programs. But she said the hospital is also always working on improving processes such as communication between staff and with patients.

“It’s just continuous,” Candiello said.

GBMC was rated above average for preventing problems including MRSA, blood and urinary tract infections, bed sores, patient falls and injuries and death from treatable complications after surgery. It also received high marks for its medication administration, hand washing practices and staffing levels.

But even A-rated GBMC was not perfect. Leapfrog reported below-average performance on metrics including collapsed lungs, infection after colon surgery and the responsiveness of hospital staff as measured by patient feedback.

Similarly, St. Joseph performed above average in preventing most infections and death from treatable surgery complications. It also excelled in preventing bed sores and injuries, and got above average marks in staff responsiveness.

Like GBMC, however, St. Joseph had a worse-than-average record in preventing C. diff infections and collapsed lungs.

Cunningham said C. diff, an infection patients can acquire in the hospital, is a good example of the ways in which St. Joseph is still working to improve. She said though the hospital is “not where we want to be” yet, it has put forward more than 20 initiatives to improve its outcomes. She said the hospital’s C. diff rate has improved by about 50 percent.

“It’s usually never one thing that’s going to move the dot,” Cunningham said. “It’s multiple initiatives and persistence and innovation that really drive the success, and a belief that you can get to zero.”

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The two Towson hospitals are the highest rated in Baltimore County. Franklin Square Medical Center received a B and Northwest Hospital earned a C.

Medicare.gov also rates the two Towson hospitals as at or above average in some similar safety metrics like infection rates.

Other area hospitals receiving “A” grades include Johns Hopkins Hospital, Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. The lowest-rated hospital in the Baltimore area was St. Agnes Hospital, which received a “D.”

St. Agnes Hospital sits just over the city line but serves southwestern Baltimore County. A representative for the hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the hospitals low score.

St. Agnes’ score was deflated for having higher-than-average rates of MRSA and for high rates of C. diff, like GBMC and St. Joseph. St. Agnes also scored poorly in areas related to surgery, including post-surgical deaths from serious complications, surgical wounds splitting open, objects being left in a patient’s body, dangerous blood clots and serious breathing problems. The hospital performed better than average in areas related to urinary infections and blood infections.

The hospital also performed poorly on doctors ordering medication through a computer, a practice Leapfrog says helps reduce medical errors. St. Agnes also was knocked administratively for not having enough qualified nurses, the responsiveness of its staff and “effective leadership.” St. Agnes performed better-than-average in having specially trained doctors caring for patients in an intensive-care unit.

In spring 2018, St. Agnes received a “C” grade, but received “D” grades in fall 2018 and fall 2017.

Staff reporter Cody Boteler contributed to this story.

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