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ITHACA, N.Y. — Cayuga Medical Center was recently given a “C” safety grade rating from an organization that ranks hospitals across the country.

To see how a hospital ranks up, it’s complicated. The nonprofit Leapfrog Group, which assess about 2,500 acute care hospitals in the U.S., ranks Cayuga Medical Center average. But there are dozens of grading factors and many organizations that rank hospitals. For people planning care, there are a number of tools out there.

Leapfrog’s safety scores come from data compiled from several sources, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Agency for Healthcare Research Quality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Hospital Association, Health Information Technology Supplement and a Leapfrog survey.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also rates and compares hospitals. Cayuga Medical Center has a two out of five star rating by CMS. The New York State Department of Health also compiles information on hospitals, including quality, maternity care, surgery and complaints.

Leapfrog ranks hospitals in a few main categories like infections, what practices are in place to prevent errors, safety problems and hospital staff. Erica Mobley, director of operations at Leapfrog, said the public should be aware of their hospital’s safety and ask what their hospital is doing to keep them safe.

“You do have a choice,” Mobley said. “A lot of people think they have to go to the hospital that’s closest to them or the hospital that their doctor practices at and that’s not necessarily true.”

Within a 50 mile radius of Ithaca, “C” appears to be the common grade from Leapfrog. The only hospitals in the region that scored higher were Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pennsylvania, and St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center in Syracuse.

In general, New York has very few hospitals with an “A” rating compared to the rest of the country. Just over 5 percent of hospitals received an “A” rating, which makes New York the fourth worst-ranked state by Leapfrog’s standards. (Hospitals in Alaska, Delaware and North Dakota had no hospitals with an “A” score.)

Two regional hospitals received a “D” rating from Leapfrog — UHS Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City and UHS Binghamton General Hospital.

Cayuga Medical Center does not take much stock in Leapfrog’s ranking. The hospital does not respond to Leapfrog’s surveys, so they are not scored in several areas. As to why, David Evelyn, vice president for medical affairs at CMC, said they don’t have the time. He also noted that the rankings fluctuate and the date the data is gathered could be from the current year or several years ago.

For example, Cayuga Medical Center ranked below average in a category about doctors ordering medications through a computer, instead of writing out prescriptions by hand. Good systems can help reduce medication errors in hospitals, Leapfrog says. Since CMC does not participate in Leapfrog’s survey, the group instead draws information from an American Hospital Association survey from 2015.

“At that time, probably about half of our doctors were putting in orders that way,” Dr. Evelyn said. “Today, all of our doctors are putting in orders that way.”

To add more information to the mix, hospital rankings are also ranked. In a 2013 report, the Healthcare Association of New York State examined several hospital ratings, including Leapfrog.

Dr. Evelyn echoed something in the HANYS report, which states that report cards often over-simplify or “dumb down” information and do not recognize the complexity of hospital care. When a patient receives care at a hospital, they often come into contact with many clinicians and undergo multiple tests and procedures.

Leapfrog’s safety score only received one star out of three in the HANYS report. The best rankings according to the report were the Joint Commission Quality Check, the DOH Hospital-Acquired Infection Report, CMS Hospital Compare and the DOH Hospital Profile Quality Section.

To analyze and improve safety, Dr. Evelyn said CMC uses internal and publicly reported information to improve performance. One area that is important, he said, is hospital-acquired infections.

Leapfrog states it developed the safety grades so the public can know which hospitals “do the best at protecting their patients from harm.” However, people should never refuse care because of the safety grade, but use it as a tool to help plan events like surgery or having a baby.

“If all your local hospitals score poorly, use these safety grades to start a conversation with hospital leadership and local policymakers about improving hospital safety,” Leapfrog advises.

At the end of the day, consumers and local residents planning care should be aware that there are many safety rankings out there to consult. Patients should not be afraid to ask their doctor about safety rankings and talk about planned procedures.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.