Patients are less likely to be harmed during medical procedures in Maine than in any other state in the nation, according a watchdog group.

Injuries suffered at hospitals can be serious, with 400,000 deaths nationwide each year attributable to medical errors that could be prevented, said Leapfrog, a nonprofit group that promotes hospital safety.

Some of the 28 safety conditions measured by Leapfrog are patient outcomes, such as how many patients’ lungs collapsed because of medical treatment, how many wounds split open after surgery, or how many postsurgical infections occurred.

Other measurements are based on characteristics such as hand hygiene rules, the size and quality of the nursing workforce, the use of technology to safeguard against human medication errors, and leadership structures.

Among the “A” hospitals in southern Maine were Central Maine Medical Center, Goodall, Mercy, MidCoast, Parkview Adventist, Southern Maine Medical Center, St. Mary’s and York hospitals. Maine Medical Center received a “B” rating.

In Maine, 80 percent of 20 rated hospitals received an A, the top grade, while nationally, only 32 percent of 2,539 rated hospitals received an A.

“We’re obviously very pleased to see that,” said Jeff Austin, vice president of government affairs for the Maine Hospital Association. He said Maine’s hospitals tend to do well on quality and safety issues because they responded early to concerns expressed by the Institute of Medicine about hospital quality about a decade ago.

Maine has 39 hospitals in all, but Leapfrog evaluated only general acute-care hospitals. Some general hospitals did not have sufficient data available for Leapfrog to give them a grade, according to Leapfrog’s report.

SOME GRADES CHANGED

As a group, the 80 percent figure is equal to Maine’s score from Leapfrog’s last report six months ago, but the grades for some individual hospitals changed.

Under the grading system, MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Waterville and Augusta campuses, which are ranked separately, both did worse than they did six months ago. Waterville’s Thayer campus received a C grade, down from a B, while the Augusta hospital also received a C, down from an A six months ago.

Dr. Steve Diaz, chief medical officer at MaineGeneral, said the hospital takes safety seriously and is researching how it scored on each of the 28 measures to see where the lowered grades came from.

“We have not had a lot of time to dig into it,” he said, noting that the hospital plans to open its new $312 million regional facility, the Alfond Center for Health, on Nov. 9.

A $10 million renovation of the Thayer center in Waterville is scheduled to begin later this year.

Diaz said Leapfrog is one of several groups that use different sets of data to draw conclusions about a hospital’s quality and safety levels.

He said MaineGeneral does well on safety scores given by other agencies, such as health care provider Anthem. Anthem’s annual report for 2012 gave MaineGeneral a perfect score, making it the highest-rated of 63 hospitals in the network on patient safety, health outcomes and member satisfaction.

Austin said so much hospital information is available that each organization’s rating – whether expressed in stars, blue ribbons or letter grades – should be looked at as part of a larger picture.

Diaz said MaineGeneral wants to improve in Leapfrog’s ratings, too.

“I predict we’ll do better,” Diaz said. “We’re going to gain lots of ground once we get settled in the new building.”

The only other downgrade in the state was issued to St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, which went from an A grade six months ago to a C grade this week.

Other hospitals’ grades improved, including Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington, which went from a B grade six ago to an A grade this week.

In May, Gerald Cayer, Franklin’s executive vice president, predicted an improvement from the B grade, which he said was more a result of the manner in which Leapfrog’s assessment forms had been handled than actual safety deficiencies.

This week, Cayer’s prediction came true.

The hospital has changed its employee evaluation process to hold employees more accountable, which helped improve its grade, according to Ralph Johnson, Franklin’s chief information officer.

He said the hospital made the change after Leapfrog pointed out that it was an important component of hospital safety.

Waterville’s Inland Hospital maintained its A grade, which matters not only to the patients, but to the staff, said Rick Barry, vice president of patient care services at Inland.

“There’s definitely a sense of pride in the staff that their efforts are recognized by an external agency,” he said.

York Hospital, in York, also improved – from a C to an A.

The other 13 hospitals assessed by Leapfrog maintained their grades.

John Dalton, president and chief executive officer at Inland, who called Inland’s A grade a validation of hard work, said Maine’s hospitals benefit from being in tight-knit communities.

“People are taking care of their own,” he said. “It’s not very impersonal.”

Johnson said one reason Maine’s hospitals do well is that they are willing to work together with potential competitors if it serves the patient’s interest.

Unlike in other states, he said, Maine’s hospitals have agreed to make patient data as accessible as possible to other providers, no matter where they come from.

“We need to not hold the patient’s record hostage,” he said.

While the news is good for Maine, Austin said, the encouraging data can’t be seen as a reason to relax.

“We’re doing well,” Austin said, “but nobody thinks doing the best is the equivalent of being perfect. We have to continue to improve.”

The Leapfrog Group is a national organization supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Leapfrog was founded in 2000 with support from the health insurance industry. It publishes the survey partly so purchasers can structure their contracts to reward the highest-performing hospitals.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be contacted at 861-9287 or at:

mhhetling@centralmaine.com