Southern Arizona | Investigating 4 You

N4T Investigators: Hospital Scores

TUCSON – Most Tucson hospitals scored 2 out of 5 stars, according to recently released ratings from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The area’s highest rated facility was Oro Valley Hospital, which received 4 stars. Tucson Medical Center received 3 stars. Both Banner hospitals, both Carondelet hospitals and Northwest Medical Center all received 2 stars.

Dr. Rick Anderson is the Chief Medical Officer at TMC. He said the scores are important, but the system is not perfect.

“We would like to be a higher star rating,” Anderson said. “I think the issue with star ratings too is, if you look at who is a 1-star hospital, almost all of the hospitals that that are inner city, larger hospitals tend to be 1-star hospitals.”

A Banner representative stated in an email, in part, “it does not account for important factors that impact a subset of those hospitals – academic medical centers. These hospitals treat extremely ill, often socio-economically disadvantaged patients who require highly specialized care only available at teaching institutions. This can impact the results of these hospitals, particularly when compared to suburban hospitals and those serving populations with less acute needs.”

Southern Arizona’s only trauma center, Banner UMC Tucson, is rated on the same scale as all the other facilities. Anderson said the scores do not consider pediatric care.

“The more you do, the more you get graded on,” Anderson said, “the more chances you have of not getting a great score.”

The American Hospital Association criticized the system, stating in part, “CMS’s approach to star ratings has been flawed from the outset. Today’s update has not addressed the major concerns about the methodology and usefulness of the star ratings.”

Ted Schmidt is an attorney who sees the worst of patient care. A large portion of his practice is medical negligence.

“I think it is a concern that the Medicare ratings for hospitals in Southern Arizona are not as high as we would like to see them,” Schmidt said.

But he does not think Tucson is necessarily any better or worse than other cities.

“I don’t know if that’s true,” Schmidt said. “We get cases from all over the state of Arizona. Frankly, we get probably even more cases out of Yuma than we do out of Tucson.”

Visit Tucson is an organization that promotes local tourism. Felipe Garcia is the Executive Vice President. He said hundreds of patients come from Mexico every year, largely for elective procedures and cancer treatment.

“It’s not that Mexico has bad healthcare,” Garcia said. “There are many times that procedures that they have in Mexico, we don’t have in the United States.”

Garcia said Visit Tucson may look to marketing Tucson healthcare to Canadian customers in the future.

“The most important part is where you have and you find the specialty and the doctor you trust,” Garcia said.

Anderson said other reputable organizations also rate hospitals, including Leapfrog, US News and World Report, Healthgrades and CareChex.

“Tucson is a great healthcare community,” Anderson said. “And I think we have room to improve, but I think we do really well.”

Schmidt said patients should check their doctor on the state medical board. He also recommends Verywell Health for researching doctors.

“We have some outstanding physicians in Tucson in most areas,” Schmidt said. “And you can typically, if you do your homework, can find an excellent doctor here.”

A representative for Northwest Medical Center and Oro Valley Hospital emailed the following statement:

Northwest Healthcare believes transparency in care is important as patients choose healthcare providers.  Both Northwest Medical Center and Oro Valley Hospital consistently work to increase the safety and quality of care we offer, as well as the satisfaction of the patients we serve.  By tracking quality data, focusing daily attention on process improvement, and fostering collaboration between our employees and the medical staff, we are committed to delivering quality care and making ongoing improvements over time.

A Banner representative emailed the following statement:

At Banner Health, we strive to provide the best care anywhere by any measure. The CMS Star Rating system is one method used by the federal government to compare hospitals nationwide. However, it does not account for important factors that impact a subset of those hospitals – academic medical centers. These hospitals treat extremely ill, often socio-economically disadvantaged patients who require highly specialized care only available at teaching institutions. This can impact the results of these hospitals, particularly when compared to suburban hospitals and those serving populations with less acute needs. Nonetheless, we carefully consider every benchmark and are constantly looking for ways to improve.

Sam Salzwedel

Sam Salzwedel

Sam Salzwedel is an investigative reporter at News 4 Tucson.
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