Patients are less likely to be hurt during medical procedures in Maine than in any other state in the nation, according a watchdog group that released a hospital safety report today.

Deaths and injuries caused by hospitals are serious, with 400,000 deaths nationwide each year attributable to medical errors that could be prevented, said Leapfrog, a nonprofit group that promotes hospital safety.

Some of the 28 safety conditions measured by Leapfrog are patient outcomes, such as how many patients’ lungs collapsed because of medical treatment, how many wounds split open after surgery, or how many postsurgical infections occurred.

Other measurements are based on characteristics such as hand hygiene rules, the size and quality of the nursing workforce, the use of technology to safeguard against human medication errors and leadership structures.

In Maine, 80 percent of 20 rated hospitals received an A, the top grade, from the group for their safety levels; while nationally, only 32 percent of 2,539 rated hospitals received an A.

“We’re obviously very pleased to see that,” said Jeff Austin, vice president of government affairs for the Maine Hospital Association. He said Maine’s hospitals tend to do well on quality and safety issues because they responded early to concerns expressed by the Institute of Medicine about hospital quality about a decade ago.

Maine has 39 hospitals in all, but Leapfrog evaluated only general acute-care hospitals. Some general hospitals did not have sufficient data available for Leapfrog to give them a grade, according to Leapfrog’s report.

As a group, the 80 percent figure is equal to Maine’s score from Leapfrog’s last report six months ago; but the grades for some individual hospitals changed.

Under the grading system, MaineGeneral Mecial Center’s Waterville and Augusta campuses, which are ranked separately, both did worse than they did six months ago. Waterville’s Thayer campus received a C grade, down from a B; while the Augusta hospital also received a C grade, down from an A six months ago.

Dr. Steve Diaz, chief medical officer at MaineGeneral, said the hospital takes safety seriously and is researching how it scored on each of the 28 data measures to see where the lowered grades came from.

“We have not had a lot of time to dig into it,” he said, noting that the hospital plans to open its new $312 million regional facility, the Alfond Center for Health, Nov. 9. A $10 million renovation of the Thayer center in Waterville is scheduled to begin later this year.

Diaz said Leapfrog is one of several groups that use different sets of data to draw conclusions about a hospital’s quality and safety levels.

He said MaineGeneral does well on safety scores given by other agencies, such as health care provider Anthem. Anthem’s annual report for 2012 gave MaineGeneral a perfect score, making it the highest-rated of 63 hospitals in the network on measures of patient safety, health outcomes and member satisfaction.

Austin said so much hospital information is available that each organization’s rating — whether expressed in stars, blue ribbons or letter grades — should be looked at as a part of a larger picture.

Diaz said MaineGeneral wants to improve in Leapfrog’s ratings, too.

“I predict we’ll do better,” Diaz said. “We’re going to gain lots of ground once we get settled in the new building.”

Diaz said the Alfond Center will have many physical features that will help to reduce certain safety concerns. All patients will have private rooms, reducing the chance of patient-to-patient infection transmissions; and there will be no baseboards at bathroom entrances, reducing the chances of falling.

He also said consolidating all of the high-risk procedures into a single facility would help to standardize practices and allow staff to work more cohesively.

The only other downgrade in the state was issued to St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, which went from an A grade six months ago to a C grade this week.

Other hospitals’ grades improved, including Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, which went from a B grade six months ago to an A grade this week.

In May, Gerald Cayer, Franklin’s executive vice president, predicted an improvement from the B grade, which he said was more a result of the manner in which Leapfrog’s assessment forms had been handled than actual safety deficiencies.

This week, Cayer’s prediction came true.

The hospital has changed its employee evaluation process to hold employees more accountable, which helped improve its grade, according to Ralph Johnson, Franklin’s chief information officer.

He said the hospital made the change after Leapfrog pointed out that it was an important component of hospital safety.

Waterville’s Inland Hospital maintained its A grade, which matters not only to the patients, but to the staff, said Rick Barry, vice president of patient care services at Inland.

“There’s definitely a sense of pride in the staff that their efforts are recognized by an external agency,” he said.

York Hospital, in York, also improved — from a C rating to an A.

The other 13 hospitals assessed by Leapfrog also maintained their grades.

John Dalton, president and chief executive officer at Inland, who called Inland’s A grade a validation of hard work, said Maine’s hospitals benefit from being in tight-knit communities.

“People are taking care of their own,” he said. “It’s not very impersonal.”

For providers, he said, there is usually either a personal connection or a shared acquaintance.

“If you’re caring for an elderly woman, you’ll find that you know someone from high school who dated her son,” he said.

Johnson said one reason Maine’s hospitals do well is that they are willing to work together with potential competitors if it serves the patient’s interest.

Unlike in other states, he said, Maine’s hospitals have agreed to make patient data as accessible as possible to other providers, no matter where they come from.

“We need to not hold the patient’s record hostage,” he said.

Austin said the collaboration in Maine extends beyond the sharing of patient records to the sharing of best medical practices, even when it potentially could help a competitor.

While the news is good for Maine, he said, the encouraging data can’t be seen as a reason to relax.

“We’re doing well,” Austin said, “but nobody thinks doing the best is the equivalent of being perfect. We have to continue to improve.”

The second-best state in the rankings was Massachusetts, where 70 percent of 48 hospitals received A grades.

At the other end of the spectrum, no hospitals in New Mexico or the District of Columbia received A grades, making them worst in the nation. New Hampshire was among the worst, with one of 13 hospitals, or about 8 percent, receiving an A.

The Leapfrog Group is a national organization supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Leapfrog was founded in 2000 with support from the health insurance industry. It publishes the survey partly so purchasers can structure their contracts to reward the highest-performing hospitals.

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