NCH sues nonprofit over reported D rating for patient safety

Published: October 31, 2019 6:07 PM EDT
Updated: November 22, 2019 5:09 PM EST

Most people have already formed their own opinions about NCH Healthcare System, some good, and some bad. But few seem to be phased by a letter grade that a watchdog company is giving the local health care system. We spoke to people in Collier County about the grade that’s expected to be published next week.

NCH is suing The Leapfrog Group for its plans to publish a report about the local health system that grades NCH’s patient safety with a D.

“I was having a lot of chest pains, but they just didn’t follow up the way they should have, I didn’t think,” said Zerrell Phillips, who has been a patient at NCH.

According to Leapfrog, it is situations like the one Phillips experienced with NCH that is earning the hospital the poor letter grade. Phillips visited the hospital several times over the years and has returned out of reluctance.

“What’s good for one person can be bad for another,” Phillips said.

According to court documents, NCH told Leapfrog, based on the data it gathered, giving them a D rating for patient safety would be “false and misleading.” NCH does not comment directly on pending legal matters. But it still responded in the midst of the lawsuit:

“Because this case involves citizens of different states, the federal court system has concurrent jurisdiction with the state court system. Yesterday, Leapfrog removed the entire case currently pending in front of Judge Hayes to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. A new case in the Middle District will be opened, where NCH will re-file its Verified Complaint for Injunctive Relief and Motion for Temporary Injunction. NCH will request that the federal court schedule a hearing on the Motion for Temporary Injunction prior to the date of publication of November 7th, 2019, but it will be left to the discretion of the federal judge as to whether a hearing is scheduled. This last fall was the first time NCH has not participated in Leapfrog’s hospital survey.”

NCH went on to say it will provide a further response once the current litigation is completed.

Leapfrog responded that the company will publish its findings regardless of NCH’s views toward them.

“Naples residents should be very concerned when their hospital system wastes money on a frivolous lawsuit disputing the free speech rights of an independent nonprofit organization. NCH resources would be better spent on initiatives to improve patient safety. In the United States, over 500 people a day die from preventable medical errors, infections, and injuries, and saving those lives should be the top priority of every hospital. Every hospital should focus on putting the safety of patients first and foremost every minute of every day.”

“In their complaint, NCH claims they dislike Leapfrog’s peer-reviewed methodology for grading hospitals on their safety. That methodology has been reviewed and refined over seven years by the foremost national experts in patient safety. They complain about missing data, but it was the hospitals’ decision to not freely and voluntarily report this information. Leapfrog can only use the data made available to us. Our own commitment to transparency is evidenced by the highly visible and free access to our full methodology provided on our website and in correspondence with hospitals including NCH.”

“NCH may wish to withhold their hospitals’ grades from the community they serve, but Leapfrog intends to fully defend its First Amendment rights to publish grades for NCH hospitals. Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades for Fall 2019 will be published November 7, 2019 and freely available on our website.”

Leapfrog is a nonprofit, watchdog group that grades hospitals nationwide. Other organizations that provide ratings for hospitals nationwide, include Medicare and almost any government health care website. On the Medicare website, NCH fell under the state and national average for most categories; however, the hospital system still received four out of five stars.

Sarah Webb said she hasn’t had any big medical issues, and she has not been a past patient with NCH. She believes she would not be focused on a D rating if she was in an emergency situation, however.

“Honestly, if it was a true emergency, I don’t know that I would stop to take a time to see what the ratings were,” Webb said.