Karen Garloch

Only four N.C. hospitals get five stars in Medicare quality ratings

Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro is one of four North Carolina hospitals that received 5-star quality ratings from Medicare.
Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro is one of four North Carolina hospitals that received 5-star quality ratings from Medicare. Cone Health

The federal government released its first overall hospital quality rating this week, slapping average or below-average scores on many of the nation’s best-known hospitals while awarding top scores to dozens of unheralded ones.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rated 3,617 hospitals on a one- to five-star scale, angering the hospital industry, which has been pressing the Obama administration and Congress to block the ratings. Hospitals argue the ratings will make places that treat the toughest cases look bad, but Medicare has held firm, saying that consumers need a simple way to objectively gauge quality. Medicare does factor in the health of patients when comparing hospitals, though not as much as some hospitals would like.

Only four North Carolina hospitals received the highest rating of five stars: Novant Health Medical Park Hospital in Winston-Salem, Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro, Carolina East Medical Center in New Bern and North Carolina Specialty Hospital in Durham.

Charlotte’s two largest hospitals, Carolinas Medical Center and Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center, each received two stars.

Medicare based the ratings on 64 individual measures, including death and infection rates and patient reviews. Just 102 hospitals received five stars, the highest rating, and few are those considered the nation’s best by private ratings sources such as U.S. News & World Report. The lowest ratings of one star went to 129 hospitals.

Some premier medical centers received the second highest rating of four stars, including Duke University Hospital in Durham and the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Nearly half the hospitals, 1,752, received an average rating of three stars.

“Consumers can use this trustworthy program to compare hospitals side by side,” said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, a Washington nonprofit. “This is a huge step forward.”

But Rick Pollack, president of the American Hospital Association, called the new ratings confusing for patients and families.

“Health care consumers making critical decisions about their care cannot be expected to rely on a rating system that raises far more questions than answers,” he said. “…The current ratings scheme unfairly penalizes teaching hospitals and those serving higher numbers of the poor.”

Dr. Kate Goodrich, who oversees Medicare’s quality ratings, said in a statement it has been using the same type of rating system for nursing homes and dialysis centers and found them useful to consumers and patients. Those ratings have shown, she said, “that publicly-available data drives improvement, better reporting and more open access to quality information for our Medicare beneficiaries.”

Charlotte-area hospital ratings

Four stars

▪ Carolinas HealthCare System University

▪ Carolinas HealthCare System Pineville

▪ Carolinas HealthCare System Cleveland, Shelby

▪ Carolinas HealthCare System Kings Mountain

▪ Carolinas HealthCare System Lincoln, Lincolnton

▪ Novant Health Matthews Medical Center

▪ CaroMont Regional Medical Center, Gastonia

Three stars

▪ Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center

▪ Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center

▪ Carolinas Medical Center, Behavioral Health Center

▪ Carolinas HealthCare System NorthEast, Concord

▪ Carolinas HealthCare System Stanly, Albemarle

Two stars

▪ Lake Norman Regional Medical Center, Mooresville

▪ Carolinas HealthCare System Union, Monroe