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Articles / 2014

Community Memorial Hospital is the highest ranked hospital in Ventura County in a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Study

Ventura County Star
by Tom Kisken

Picture by Monkey Business Images

Five Ventura County hospitals face financial penalties because the federal government says they exceeded new standards for infection rates and patient safety measures.

More than 720 hospitals in the nation — about one of five of the eligible facilities — will see their Medicare payments reduced 1 percent in the 2015 fiscal year as a result of an Affordable Care Act program aimed at improving care and protecting patients.

Hospitals in Ventura County facing the pay reduction include Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura, St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, and Simi Valley Hospital. The penalties against VCMC also affect funding to county-run Santa Paula Hospital.

Among California’s approximately 300 eligible hospitals, more than 75 face penalties.

The penalties come from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program. Hospitals were assessed on catheter infections, bed sores, blood clots, patient falls and other measures.

Federal officials say the program is aimed at enhancing patient safety. The penalties are expected to total more than $300 million nationwide.

Hospital officials at Ventura County Medical Center said they learned of the penalties when a reporter asked about the issue Friday. They defended the hospital’s efforts to prevent infections. They talked about exploring the possibility of asking the government to recalculate the assessment.

“I was surprised, which is why we’re going to talk to CMS to find out exactly how it was calculated and to find out exactly what data was utilized,” said Susan Scott, chief nurse executive at VCMC.

In a score based on patient safety and infections linked to care, hospitals were rated on a scale of 1 to 10. The lowest scores represented the best performance. Hospitals in the highest quarter, with scores of 7 or higher, face penalties.

VCMC’s score of 9.675 was the worst in Ventura County. Hospital officials said they’ve done well in other patient safety assessments. They said they have reduced how often and how long they use equipment such as urinary catheters and central lines that can be linked to infections.

The reduced use may have hurt urinary catheter or central line scores because relatively few patients were involved, said Dr. Rick Rutherford, medical directory of quality at VCMC.

“A single infection has a big impact on the rate,” he said, emphasizing the hospital’s support of federal efforts to improve patient safety.

Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center, which also faces a cut in Medicare payment, was graded at 7.7. Simi Valley Hospital received a score of 7.2. St. John’s Regional Medical Center was at 7.05.

Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura and St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo avoided the penalties. Community Memorial received a score of 3.075 and the Camarillo hospital was at 4.425.

The scores were based on data from 2011 through 2013. Officials at several penalized hospitals said improvements made this year are not reflected.

Megan Maloney, spokeswoman for Dignity Health, noted that St. John’s Regional reduced its number of urinary tract infections linked to catheters by 85 percent in the past year. She said bloodstream infections linked to central lines fell by 30 percent.

“Our community can be assured that safety, quality and service is and will continue to be above expectation,” she said in a statement.

Officials at associations representing hospitals called for changes in the new program. Individual facilities issued statements emphasizing the importance of patient safety.

“We are on a mission to eliminate hospital-acquired conditions by training and educating all of our staff (at all levels) on a daily basis to be 100 percent compliant with all prevention policies and procedures,” said Alicia Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Simi Valley Hospital.

Lisa McGiffert is director of the Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project. She praised the penalties, suggesting the pay cuts will bring better care.

“The hospitals being penalized will pay a little more attention to the errors and the infections that are occurring and step up their efforts to prevent them,” she said.