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Many winners—but, gulp, more losers—in controversial hospital ranking

Thursday, December 21, 2017
Crain's Chicago Business

Rush University Medical Center is one of a dozen Chicago-area hospitals to get a top five-star rating—and the only academic medical center among them—from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that runs the Medicare program.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital improved its rating to four from three stars, while the University of Chicago Medical Center repeated with three stars. Neither had any immediate comment.

The Overall Hospital Quality Star Ratings by CMS is both a consumer guide and a prod for health care providers to improve their game. It assesses mortality and readmission rates, emergency room wait times and other factors at more than 4,000 hospitals nationwide.

Among 74 hospitals within 50 miles of Chicago that were rated, 20 got four stars and 18 got three. The University of Illinois Hospital and John Stroger Jr. Hospital were among 13 receiving one star. The University of Illinois Hospital said it was "disappointed" by its rating. In a statement lacking specifics, it said, "We have achieved numerous improvements in quality and safety measures in recent years, and our focus is on continually improving care and outcomes for our patients, regardless of what the rating systems show."

Rush credited its emphasis on safety, patient experience and readmission rates. Tech support is another factor, according to Richa Gupta, chief quality officer. Nearly 17 percent of Chicago-area hospitals received five stars, compared with 7.5 percent nationally.

But the number of one-star hospitals here also rose, from four last year. Among newcomers to the group: Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center and Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital.

The rating system was introduced last year only after the American Hospital Association and other industry groups balked, arguing that the methodology was oversimplified, warped and unfairly penalizes teaching and inner-city hospitals.

This year, the agency said it tweaked its approach and quoted its chief, Seema Verma: "We continue to refine the Star Ratings and look forward to an ongoing dialogue with hospitals and patients and their families on how we can provide beneficiaries useful information."

CMS wants to issue the ratings semi-annually, beginning next year.

Other local institutions receiving five stars included Evanston Hospital, Palos Community Hospital and Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, which repeated the feat. Presence St. Joseph-Chicago and Rush Oak Park Hospital got four stars.

Across Illinois, 161 of 185 hospitals were rated.

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