When it comes to rural hospitals, Maine is leading the nation, according to a list of top hospitals produced by a nonprofit group that was formed to reduce medical errors.

A list of the 13 best rural hospitals in the nation released Tuesday includes one in Waterville, another in Pittsfield and three others in Maine.

Inland Hospital, in Waterville, and Sebasticook Valley Health, in Pittsfield, were chosen from a group of about 200 rural hospitals evaluated by Leapfrog, an independent nonprofit.

Leapfrog used a set of data that quantifies patient outcome, efficiency and management practices that prevent errors.

Inland also made the list in 2010. Sebasticook has been recognized for three years in a row.

John Dalton, president of Inland, said he was proud, both of his hospital and of the state.

“Maine hospitals do a good job,” Dalton said. “There’s a lot of focus on us by a lot of organizations that encourage us to do a good job. We are all working to address sources of error, safety issues, collectively as well as individually. There’s a definite focus in this state on that.”

Dalton said Maine hospitals deliver some of the best care in the nation at costs that are average.

Mike Peterson, chief administrative officer at Sebasticook Valley Health, said Leapfrog is one of the few national rating systems that take cost into effect.

“It looks at value,” Peterson said. “How much quality can you get for the cost? The winners are also some of the lowest-cost organizations in the country.”

“We’re thrilled to be part of this obvious dominance of the state,” Peterson said.

Maine is second in the nation in another Leapfrog measure, one which looks at hospital safety.

The ranking of states is based on the percentage of hospitals that received an A grade for 26 safety categories, including things such as rates of breathing failure, the splitting open of wounds after surgery, or collapsed lungs as a result of medical treatment.

Eighty percent of Maine’s hospitals received an A rating, which was second only to hospitals in Massachusetts, which led with 83 percent.

The three states tied for third place — Delaware, North Dakota and Vermont — scored significantly lower, with 50 percent earning the A rating.

Among the worst-rated states in the nation, with 10 percent or less earning an A, are Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Kansas, West Virginia and Oklahoma. New Mexico ranks last, with 7 percent rating an A.

Of about 2,600 hospitals measured, 790 earned an A. Nearly half, or 1,150, earned a C, D or F.

Both Dalton and Peterson said Maine is doing well because its hospitals work together to solve problems.

“One of the reasons Maine stood out so well is because of the Maine Health Quality Coalition,” Peterson said. “We participate in that actively. Hospitals from across Maine get together and share best practices. I don’t know if other states have something similar, but I can tell you it’s what helps us make a difference in Maine.”

Both hospitals have benefited from being part of the Eastern Maine Healthcare System, which has allowed them to implement the same costly computer systems.

“We didn’t do this because we’re a 48-bed hospital,” Dalton said. “It’s because we’re part of a system.”

“We get to leverage the big-boy hardware because we’re a part of this system,” Peterson said. “We could not do this on our own.”

Inland received an A. Leapfrog didn’t measure Sebasticook Valley Health for safety because there were limited public data available for it as a critical access hospital.

While Inland didn’t excel on all measures — the rate of falls and trauma was above average, for example — it exceeded the national average in enough measures to merit the top score given.

Compared to the average, Inland had fewer accidental cuts or tears from medical treatment, fewer collapsed lungs because of to medical treatment and fewer advanced-pressure ulcers, among many other measures.

In some measures, such as teamwork training, identification and mitigation of risks and hazards, hand hygiene and care of the ventilated patient, Inland not only beat the average but also received the highest possible scores.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com