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Kudos and concerns at Sharon Hospital

“We’re down about 62 percent in the ER. I’m worried about what’s not coming through the door.” — Dr. Mark Hirko, Sharon Hospital

SHARON — For the third time in a row, Sharon Hospital has earned an “A” rating from the national healthcare watchdog, The Leapfrog Group. The 78-bed Litchfield County hospital was one of seven to earn the top rating among 22 Connecticut acute care hospitals in Leapfrog’s Spring 2020 Hospital Safety Grades.

“Really excited” is how Dr. Mark Hirko, president of Sharon Hospital, described his reaction to the trifecta of “A” ratings. 

“It matches up with our CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] five-star rating, and is really a testament to the quality of care and patient safety” provided by Sharon Hospital, Hirko said in a phone interview on Friday, May 8.

The Leapfrog Group is an independent national watchdog organization that informs the public about which hospitals have the best patient safety records. In March, Sharon was the only hospital in Connecticut to achieve the highest quality rating from CMS for patient care and one of 407 facilities in the nation to earn the top score.

The ratings from Leapfrog, said Hirko, provide patients with a vital resource at a time when transparency has never been more important. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, hospitals are reminded of the critical role patient safety plays in protecting the public, he said.

“Now more than ever, our team’s shared vision of redefining the safe and effective delivery of care is crucial to fostering a safe environment here and across the region. The pledge of our clinical and support services staff to keep patients safe and well-cared-for is unwavering.”

Sharon Hospital received the highest safety grade for focus on patient safety, avoiding harm and patient experience. The hospital also received an “A” in the spring and fall of 2019. Grades are updated every six months.

Worrisome drop in ER visits

Although COVID-19 related hospital admissions at Sharon, and throughout Litchfield County, have been on the decline in recent weeks, Hirko said he is concerned that once businesses and restaurants reopen and people move about more freely, that hospitals could become inundated.

“That’s the great unknown. I fear what occurred in Europe, Asia and some parts of the United States,” where restrictions were loosened, “and then boom, you start to see a blowback of COVID cases,” said Hirko.  

But for now, calm reigns at Sharon Hospital. Its president reported that COVID-19 admissions as of May 8 stood at two, and that the 25-bed field hospital donated by the state and currently set up on in the front parking lot has yet to be used, except for training and drills. 

But in the event that COVID-19 gains momentum again, staff at Sharon Hospital will be equipped to face it head on, said Hirko.  

“On any given day, between five and seven patients show up in the emergency department for COVID-19 testing, or they come in with symptoms,” he said. 

Fear of the ER

One thing that worries the hospital president is the sharp drop in emergency department visits. 

“We’re down about 62 percent in the ER,” he said, adding that,  “I’m worried about what’s not coming through the door.” 

People are fearful about seeking treatment for non-COVID illnesses or injuries during the pandemic, such as gallbladder issues or other injuries, he said. 

The hospital had gone about six weeks without treating one case of appendicitis — but in the course of one day last week, said Hirko, “three came in, one with a perforated appendix. I’m worried we might be seeing sicker patients,” requiring emergency surgeries as a result of people waiting to seek medical care until their illness reaches a crisis point.

A shout-out to ‘our heroes’

Hirko said it is the entire hospital family that deserves credit not only for high marks from watchdog groups, but also for their role in responding to the pandemic.  The hospital observed Nurses Recognition Week (May 6-12) and is observing National Hospital Week (May 10-16) and National EMS Week (May 17-23). 

While the hospital president said he wishes the workers could be honored in person, social distancing has put a temporary hold on festivities. 

“I am hoping in late summer that we can celebrate — and invite everyone in the community to recognize all our heroes.”

Determining the grades 

To calculate Sharon Hospital’s score, Leapfrog used data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS); its own survey of hospitals; and other data sources. 

The ratings focus on acute care hospitals.

Sharon was one of seven Connecticut hospitals to receive the “A” rating. The other six: Johnson Memorial Medical Center in Stafford Springs, MidState Medical Center in Meriden, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Stamford Health, William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich and Windham Community Memorial Hospital.

Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, Bristol Hospital and the three branches of the Hospital of Central Connecticut earned “B” ratings. 

The 12 hospitals to earn “C” ratings are Bridgeport Hospital, Greenwich Hospital, Griffin Hospital, Hartford Hospital, Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, Middlesex Health, Norwalk Hospital, Saint Mary’s Hospital, St. Vincent’s Medical Center, UConn Health Center, John Dempsey Hospital, Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale-New Haven/Saint Raphael Campus. 

Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, said in a news release, “We hope this ‘A’ helps to thank the people who work and volunteer for Sharon Hospital. They are role models in putting patients first, and their service has been extraordinary in our country’s time of need.”

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