SALT LAKE CITY — The federal government will cut payments to eight Utah hospitals after they fell among the bottom quarter of medical centers for patient injuries and preventable infections.
This is the third year Medicare has penalized hospitals for preventable complications such as infections, blood clots, bed sores and falls.
The initiative is part of the Affordable Care Act, which requires that Medicare penalize the bottom 25 percent of hospitals in these measures.
Intermountain Medical Center, St. Mark’s Hospital, Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, McKay-Dee Hospital, LDS Hospital, Castleview Hospital, Mountain West Medical Center and Cache Valley Hospital will see their payments reduced under the program.
Medicare ranks hospitals on several measures, including the rate of central line infections, catheter infections, surgical site infections and MRSA.
Hospital administrators have criticized the federal government’s methodology, saying medical centers that are more mindful about detecting infections are penalized for their vigilance. Others say that hospitals that tend to treat more severely ill populations are unfairly dinged.
Administrators have also criticized the program for the delayed nature of the data. Data for the latest release were collected from July 2013 to June 2015.
Since then, said Marie Prothero, executive director of quality improvement at St. Mark's Hospital, the hospital has made significant improvements in patient safety and has implemented a microbe-zapping robot to reduce infections.
"We recognize the importance of ensuring patient safety at all times," Prothero said in a statement. "That is why we are thoroughly reviewing our data and proactively addressing this priority at St. Mark’s Hospital."
Suzanne Anderson, nurse administrator at Intermountain Medical Center, said the hospital supports the concept of incentivizing medical centers to reduce hospital-acquired conditions.
But she said the federal government's use of the same rubric for all hospitals nationwide is flawed.
"There are clearly refinements and changes needed for the program," Anderson said in a statement.
“Hospitals devoting serious resources to safer care with optimized surveillance tend to lead to increased detection versus less safe care. These facilities are being penalized,” she added.
There is evidence that the initiative is working. Hospital-acquired conditions declined by 21 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The agency estimated that $28 billion in health care costs was saved as a result.
Nationwide, 769 hospitals will see their payments cut, including prestigious institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, and Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania.
The hospitals will lose 1 percent of all Medicare payments for a year. Kaiser Health News reported that will exceed $1 million for many larger hospitals.