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The coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the nation’s hospitals didn’t stop a patient safety group from issuing report cards.

The Washington, D.C.-based The Leapfrog Group released in late April its grades for how 2,600 hospitals measure up for keeping patients from preventable harm, infections, accidents and medical errors. The grades are released twice a year in spring and fall.

Leapfrog uses up to 28 national performance measures from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The spring hospital safety grades are based on data collected prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Leah Binder, president and CEO of Leapfrog, said in an email.

Previous rankings: Wondering how Southwest Florida hospitals rank? See new federal scores.

The COVID-19 pandemic adds urgency to the need for patient safety, starting with infection prevention, she said.

Lee Health’s four hospital campuses all received A grades for the third reporting period in a row, according to the watchdog organization.

“Leapfrog is a national leader in driving quality health care and it is an honor to be recognized for our commitment to patient safety,” said Scott Kashman, chief officer of hospital operations for the publicly-operated system.

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Lee Health operates Cape Coral Hospital, Lee Memorial Hospital, Gulf Coast Medical Center and HealthPark Medical Center. It also operates Golisano Children's Hospital, which didn't receive a grade in the report.

“This recognition is a reflection of our dedicated team of doctors, advanced providers, nurses and support staff and the amazing work they do every day to provide safe and compassionate care.”

Previous coverage: NCH Healthcare System files lawsuit against Leapfrog Group for 'D' patient safety grade

In Collier County, the NCH Healthcare System with two hospital campuses each received C grades, an improvement from D's last fall.

In late October 2019, about two weeks before Leapfrog publicly released its fall 2019 grades, NCH filed a complaint in Collier Circuit Court seeking an injunction against the release of its pending D grades.

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The grades were a substantial drop from a B for NCH Baker Hospital and C for North Naples Hospital six months earlier in the spring.

In its complaint, which is still pending, NCH said Leapfrog punishes hospitals that do not participate in a survey that Leapfrog uses from hospitals but which are seldom audited for accuracy, according to the complaint.

Data from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is used for hospitals that don’t fill out the Leapfrog survey, which means competing hospitals are graded on different measures and that is not disclosed to the public, NCH said in its initial complaint.

Paul Hiltz, president and CEO of NCH, said the latest Leapfrog patient safety grade change to Cs is an improvement but more work is being done.

NCH has hired a new chief medical officer, Dr. Kristin Mascotti, who recently was vice president of clinical quality at the University of Minnesota Health, he said. She starts June 1 and part of her background is quality improvement, he said.

“She’s got the kind of track record we need,” he said.

NCH also has appointed a physician, Dr. Carlos Quintero, to the position of chief quality officer, he said.

Still, Hiltz said NCH does well in clinical outcomes and scores high but what drags down the overall Leapfrog grade is patient experience generated from customer surveys.

“The clinical side we are great at, what we need to improve is the customer service side,” he said.

NCH is making changes to its customer survey and a team meets weekly to address it, plus there are concierge representatives to help patients with their hospital experience, he said.

If NCH’s patient satisfaction went up one letter grade, the Leapfrog grade would go back to A's without having to change anything on clinical quality, he said.

“We know we need to do better on that and it has gotten better,” he said. “We will be laser focused on it.”

Leapfrog said it is commendable that NCH’s grades have improved since last fall. The lawsuit filed by NCH continues.

“Leapfrog will continue to fully defend its First Amendment rights to publish grades for the NCH hospitals,” said Leapfrog's Binder, the CEO. “The last scheduled hearing was cancelled due to coronavirus and we don’t have a new date.”

Physicians Regional with two campuses in Collier received D grades, the first time the system was included in the Leapfrog hospital safety grades.

“We did not participate in the (Leapfrog) survey,” Physicians Regional spokeswoman Brittney Thoman said in an email. “Unfortunately the data Leapfrog is using is incomplete and hence the scoring method is not accurate.”

Thoman said Physicians Regional achieved scores consistent with the threshold for “Best Performing Hospital” by Leapfrog in outcome measures that include errors, accidents and injuries.

During the 2020 calendar year so far, Physicians Regional has had no surgical site infections, wounds, catheter-associated urinary tract infections or other events that would harm patients, she said.

“Our physicians, nurses and team members take every opportunity to further enhance patient experience and quality of care,” she said. “Tracking quality data, daily attention to process improvement, and collaboration between our employees and medical staffs support these efforts.”

Leapfrog said Physicians Regional was not included in the safety grades in the past because there was not enough data from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to do so. The hospital declined to provide additional data through the survey, Leapfrog said.

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