FORT MYERS, Fla. - This fall, fines will be levied against hundreds of hospitals across the country for falling short in patient care, and WINK News found several Southwest Florida hospitals are at risk.
The Hospital Acquired Condition Reduction Program, part of the Affordable Care Act, will fine hospitals by reducing Medicare payments to those with the worst patient injury rates, such as preventable infections, falls, and blood clots. Hospitals are rated on a scale of one to ten. Those scoring higher than a seven could be a risk for fines.
According to recent data, five hospitals or medical centers in the WINK News viewing area currently score seven or higher. They include: Gulf Coast Medical Center, Lehigh Regional Medical Center, Lee Memorial Hospital, Cape Coral Hospital, and Highlands Regional Medical Center in Sebring.
But hospital advocates say the research is still preliminary, and doesn't take into account recent improvements that could ultimately lower scores in time for the October deadline.
"The differences between these hospitals and those that are not named... can be very insignificant," said Bill Bell, an attorney for the Florida Hospital Association.
The ratings and penalties are controversial. In a statement provided to WINK News, Lee Memorial Health Systems spokesperson Mary Briggs said: "While one infection is one too many, we are makinge excellent progress in reducing hospital acquired conditions throughout all of our hospitals. The data released in this report goes back three years, so it is not a good reflection of what is happening today."
LMHS also makes public on its website information about its recent efforts to improve quality of care. Three LMHS hospitals made the list: Gulf Coast, Lee Memorial, and Cape Coral.
"We would say that the hospitals' basic mission is to improve patient care," Bell said. "They've already been working on that and this is one of the best times to be a patient in healtcare today.
Starting October first, hospitals still failing to make the grade will be subject to a one percent reduction in their Medicare payments for an entire year. An estimated 750 hospitals nationwide could loose about 333-million dollars in payments.