Site rates RMC high in deaths
Center behind in heart failure, pneumonia

CONYERS - A federal government Web site ranks Rockdale Medical Center behind other local hospitals, as well as the nation, when it comes to death rates for pneumonia and heart failure.

The mortality rates were recently released by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on its nationwide hospital comparison Web site.

On the Medicare Web site, www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov, the mortality data represent the percentage of patients who die within 30 days of being admitted to a hospital for heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia. All patients tracked were enrolled in Medicare, the government health insurance program for people 65 and older and the disabled.

According to the site, the estimated 30-day mortality rate at Rockdale Medical Center for pneumonia patients was 16.6 percent with an estimate range between 12.5 and 22.5 percent for 118 pneumonia patients admitted during the survey period from July 2006 to June 2007.

Mike Potter, RMC CEO and president, said the pneumonia patients received at the hospital were extremely sick with an average age of 86. He noted that one-third of all pneumonia patients who arrived at RMC were sick enough to be admitted directly to the hospital's intensive care unit.

Potter said the hospital is reviewing ways to improve service and added that preventive action is important.

He encouraged people with respiratory conditions that could make them susceptible to pneumonia to consider getting vaccinated against the disease.

"When a patient comes in, one of the things we check for is to see if they have ever been vaccinated against pneumonia, and if they had not, we offer them the opportunity to get that vaccination," Potter said.

Based on the report, 83 percent of RMC patients were given the vaccine, compared to 77 percent nationwide. NMC reported administering the vaccination to 62 percent of patents and DeKalb Medical gave it to 59 percent.

In comparison to the two nearest hospitals - Newton Medical Center and DeKalb Medical Center at Hillandale - RMC pneumonia mortality rates were the worst. Both NMC and DeKalb Medical fell within the national average.

With regard to heart failure mortality rates, RMC was on the high end, according to the study. The site shows that the national 30-day death rate from heart failure is 11.1 percent; RMC came in at 14.1 percent. NMC had a 9.7 percent death rate and DeKalb Medical posted a 10.2 percent rate. Even with the varying percentages, researchers stated the hospitals were not "statistically different from the national rate."

RMC along with Newton Medical Center and DeKalb Medical Center at Hillandale fall within the national mortality rates for heart attacks.

The hospital comparison information is the federal government's effort to inform the public on quality of healthcare and is part of a growing trend of healthcare information provided by public and private sources.

Potter said the new transparency presents a challenge to all hospitals, but in the end it will help hospitals focus on areas that mean the most to patients.

"Ten to 15 years ago, hospitals went on reputation that was largely word of mouth and patient to patient," he said. "I think as the general population becomes more sophisticated in their reviews of the types of services they may need, that they want more data, and people are more likely to compare nowadays than they would, say, 25 years ago."

However, with more available information comes additional needs for staffing to collect, tabulate and send off the information, Potter said.

"That's the trade off. It means more expense for the hospital to compile that data."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.