Federal Officials Rank Wisconsin Rural Hospitals Among Best In US

'Critical Access Hospitals' In Wisconsin Ranked No. 1 In Quality Of Care

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Morgan (CC-BY)

The quality of health care can depend on where you live. And a new federal report suggests Wisconsin’s small, rural hospitals are better than similar facilities in other states.

Wisconsin’s “critical access hospitals” as they are formally known ranked first in the nation on 28 quality measures for the Medicare Beneficiary Quality Improvement Project. The measures includes immunization levels, patient satisfaction, care in the emergency department and transfer of patients needing specialized treatment.

Wisconsin has 63 critical access hospitals, which are defined as having fewer than 25 beds, said Kelly Court, chief quality officer at the Wisconsin Hospital Association. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration assesses these facilities by analyzing data from Medicare patients before ranking them.

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“If Medicare patients are getting a high level of quality of care, we can be confident that those same processes and systems are used for all patients. And so when we see high scores on measures that reflect just Medicare patients, we can confer that same level of care is happening for all patients,” Court said.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association, also known as WHA, has been working with rural hospitals on the quality measures to improve performance, Court said.

“Those are actually the measures that WHA worked on with a number of the rural hospitals to improve so that we have high performance on that, so when that transfer happens the right care is done in the rural setting and then there’s a really good smooth hand off to accepting facility,” Court said.

Across the nation, rural hospitals have faced financial difficulties, and many have closed. Court said rural hospitals in Wisconsin are faring better than their counterparts across the country.

“Sometimes their payer mix isn’t as great, but I think in Wisconsin our hospitals tend to be financially healthy. They’re very engaged in working on quality. Many of them are part of bigger (health care) systems,” Court said. “So I would say for the most part, Wisconsin hasn’t had that same issue that we see in some of the other states. Obviously, Medicaid reimbursement is a big part of that.”

Participation in the Medicare Beneficiary Quality Improvement Project is voluntary, and there are financial incentives for the hospitals.

“There is some federal grant money available, and it’s really a small amount of money each year that is administered by the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health. To be eligible for the grant money you have to collect the data on the measures,” Court said. “But I think what really drives our rural hospitals in the state to collect the data and improve it is their commitment to high quality. So these are measures that are really important to their patient population.”

Court said this favorable ranking is consistent with other national assessments of health care in Wisconsin. Federal officials say Wisconsin ranked fourth last year in the Medicare Beneficiary Quality Improvement Project.

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