Santa Fe hospital trails state, national averages in patient satisfaction

2015-04-23 | The Santa Fe New Mexican

April 23--New Mexico hospitals rank below the national average for patient satisfaction, a recent federal report says. Patients in only four states and the District of Columbia were less satisfied with their hospital experiences, and Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, Santa Fe's only hospital, lagged behind even the dismal state average for patient satisfaction.

"Christus is at the bottom of the list of hospitals in a state which occupied the bottom of the national list as it relates to patient satisfaction," Lorie McIver, president of New Mexico District 1199 of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, which represents hundreds of nurses and medical technicians at the hospital, said Wednesday. "That says a lot."

She blamed the hospital's low rankings on the administration's refusal to adequately staff the hospital. McIver said that trend has continued since January, when a new contract imposed financial penalties for failure to meet minimum staffing levels.

St. Vincent earned two out of five stars in the Hospital Compare Quality Survey conducted by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Just 57 percent of patients reported that they would definitely recommend the hospital.

Among hospitals statewide, an average of 62 percent of patients said they would recommend to others the facility that cared for them, and nationally, 71 percent of patients said they would recommend the hospital where they were treated.

St. Vincent's lowest marks were for room and bathroom cleanliness, and quietness of the areas around patients' rooms at night. The hospital's best showing was for providing patients information about what to do during their recoveries after they'd left the hospital, which nearly matched the state average for patient satisfaction.

Under St. Vincent's pact with the union that took effect Jan. 1, the hospital agreed to a staffing level equal to at least 40 percent of that of similar hospitals, a provision unique among hospital labor contracts in the state. On days that the hospital does not meet the minimum nurse staffing level, it faces up to $600 in fines, and up to $300 a day in fines for technician staffing. The proceeds go to a continuing education fund for employees.

According to records obtained by The New Mexican that the hospital provided to the union, during January and February, St. Vincent avoided penalties for nurse staffing on just one shift, amassing $35,250 in penalties out of a possible $35,400. The records showed the hospital never met the minimum staffing level for medical technicians during January and February and paid $17,700 in fines.

St. Vincent spokesman Arturo Delgado said the hospital is contractually obliged to make "a reasonable effort" to schedule targeted staff to accommodate the daily patient census.

"While we periodically do not have perfect staffing, we have hired clinical supervisors who are on each unit, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, helping to ensure our patients' needs are being met in a safe environment," Delgado said. "This challenge is not unique to Christus St. Vincent, and for that reason we have a full-time staffing office to shift available staff to meet our needs and to ensure we are meeting the needs of all our patients."

The hospital's administration says it has made strides recently to improve care and patient experiences. Lillian Montoya, vice president of public policy and stakeholder engagement at St. Vincent, said that during the past year the hospital has held a series of meetings with Santa Fe residents to gauge their medical wants and needs, added patient navigators, a billing advocate and a new approach to customer service, as well as launched a construction project to add more private rooms.

Montoya said a campaign to expand professional development for nurses and other providers of direct care, and the hiring of a firm to coach employees on providing customer service, will improve patient satisfaction.

"We remain committed to improving lives by providing excellent health care to the patients and families we serve," Montoya said. "Every day our goal is to provide for all patient needs in a safe and compassionate manner. And while the CMS data is nearly 18 months old, we take the feedback seriously."

The patients surveyed by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services were discharged between July 2013 and June 2014. The data released last week marked the first time a rating of one to five stars has been publicly released by the federal agency to compare hospitals. The system was implemented as part of President Barack Obama's health care reform law, and updates will be released quarterly.

Contact Patrick Malone at 986-3017 or pmalone@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @pmalonenm.

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