ALBANY — Capital Region hospitals earned mixed reviews in the latest and long-awaited update to the federal government’s controversial star hospital rating system.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has published hospital ratings since 2005 in an effort to give the public a way to compare hospitals on measures such as patient experience, timely and effective care, complications and death rates, readmission rates and payments, among other things.

But the ratings have been controversial from the start, as hospitals allege they oversimplify health outcomes and fail to account for factors beyond a hospital’s control such as a large population of uninsured and poor patients.
Hoping to address these concerns, CMS announced last June it was delaying the anticipated July 2018 release of its star ratings in order to analyze certain rating measures that left hospitals confused as to why their ratings changed. On Thursday, the ratings were finally released.

Capital Region scores

The Capital Region’s largest hospitals didn’t fare so well in the latest batch of ratings, which measure hospitals on a number of factors and then assign an overall star rating from one to five stars.

Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany each dropped by one star since December 2017, the last time ratings were released. Albany Med was awarded one star out of five. St. Peter’s was awarded two.

Samaritan Hospital in Troy (1 star), St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam (2 stars), and Glens Falls Hospital (3 stars) also saw their ratings drop by one star.

Four area hospitals saw their ratings increase. Albany Memorial Hospital saw the largest increase from 2 stars to 4 stars. Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson (2 stars), Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville (4 stars), and Saratoga Hospital (4 stars) also jumped by one star.

Ratings held steady, meanwhile, for Cobleskill Regional Hospital (4 stars), St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy (3 stars) and Ellis Hospital in Schenectady (2 stars).

Good ratings, it turns out, are rare. Only one hospital in New York — the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan — received five stars.

An analysis of hospital ratings statewide by the Albany-based Empire Center found that 48 of the 151 hospitals graded in New York received a one-star rating, up from 33 in 2017. The state’s hospitals received an average of 2.18 stars out of five, down from 2.32 as of 2017.

Among all 50 states, New York hospitals rank 50th in star ratings.

Criticisms and cautions

Area hospitals were cautious about embracing the star ratings, and some flat-out rejected them.

Albany Medical Center, the region’s only academic medical center and level one trauma center, said Monday that the measure has been criticized by quality experts and Congress as being inaccurate and misleading, because it compares “very different hospitals” using the same measure.

“Any meaningful comparison of hospitals should be done between hospitals that provide similar types of care to similar types of patients,” the hospital said.

That’s a change that CMS appears open to embracing. The agency included it as one of several potential changes it’s considering for the star ratings program, and asked for the public to weigh in on it and other changes. Comments are due March 29.

Nathan Littauer Chief Medical Officer Frederick Goldberg said the small community hospital in Gloversville has worked hard to promote a culture of safety and avoid preventable harm to patients. While pleased with the hospital’s four-star rating, he too cautioned against patients putting too much stock in the measurement.

“I think we’re still in an era where word of mouth and referrals from people that you trust are as valuable, if not more,” he said.

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