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Monday, October 5, 2009 - 6:05pm

Medicare Ranks 14 Ga. Hospitals Low

A study by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services says the death rate for certain diseases at 14 hospitals in Georgia is higher than the national average.

Three hospitals had a higher death rate for heart attacks while another three had a higher rate for heart failure, according to Hospital Compare, a Medicare website that allows people to compare the quality of up to three hospitals at a time. Nine hospitals had a higher death rate for pneumonia.

The number includes a death rate higher than the national average for both heart attacks and pneumonia at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics in Augusta.

The survey only accounted for patients on Medicare, in their 60s or older.

Kevin Bloye, a spokesman for the Georgia Hospital Association, says Georgia's rate of poverty and lack of education mean sicker patients.

"That plays a major role when you talk about about patient care outcomes," says Bloye. "Those are sometimes factors that are outside the control of the hospital, and then of course there are some areas in hospitals that we need to do a better job."

Bloye says hospitals across the state are working aggressively to improve patient care.

While the hospitals are ranked low, that doesn't necessarily mean patient care is bad or dangerous.

For instance at MCG, the death rates were higher, in part, because the health system accepts sicker patients, says Dr. David Snyder, a surgeon and vice president of patient care, quality and safety at MCG Health.

Only about a third of the patients are on Medicaid as well. The hospital had 16,000 admissions last year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has rated hospitals and ambulatory care in Georgia as "weak," based on statistics from 2008. The report, meanwhile, ranked home health care as very strong.

(Hear Dr. David Snyder discuss the Medicare study by clicking the audio link below.)