Fraseropolis hospitals trail in CBC survey

An A+ rating: Saskatoon City Hospital (photo from BTY Group)

An A+ rating: Saskatoon City Hospital (photo from BTY Group)

Based on its national survey of hospitals, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation  finds that more than half the lowest-ranked hospitals in Canada are located in Metro Vancouver.

The survey results, released on April 10, 2013, award a grade of “D” to Vancouver General, UBC, Surrey Memorial, Burnaby and Ridge Meadows hospitals. Of 239 hospitals rated in the survey, only nine fall into the “D” category, for performance (says CBC) “substantially below that of a typical hospital of the same size.” Rounding out the “D” category are two hospitals in Alberta and two in Saskatchewan.

Of 31 hospitals in CBC’s “A” category, none are located in British Columbia. Alberta is  over-represented in the “A” group with 11 placements.

Disclosure: I’m a former community relations advisor to the Fraser Health Authority, which operates three of the hospitals listed above. In my job, I frequently responded to customer questions and complaints; I’m aware that public expectations of health care are high, and that news media are often mischievous in reporting on health care issues. I also know that health authorities across Canada put considerable effort and money into trying to improve their systems.

For its survey, CBC considered information published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, other data gathered through published sources and written requests, and ratings submitted voluntarily to the CBC website by consumers.

More than 300 Canadian hospitals were not rated due to a shortage of data. Indeed, the broadcaster says it faced serious obstacles in gathering data: it says the federal government and the provinces collaborated in refusing to cooperate with the survey.  Only New Brunswick, PEI and Nunavut responded to CBC inquiries.

Canada’s health authorities, including those in Vancouver and the B.C. Interior, have dismissed the survey as invalid. David Ostrow, CEO of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, says the results are subjective and incomplete. He also complains that the CBC is using one yardstick to compare hospitals with radically different types of caseloads. That is, some hospitals are required to cope with sicker or more difficult patients than other hospitals. No doubt; but should we conclude that British Columbians are generally sicker and more troublesome to treat than people in Ontario?

The CBC deserves credit for taking on this project, and for applying pressure on governments to release more information on health care management. However, these are sensitive and complicated issues, and I would award the folks at CBC a “C” grade, or maybe a “D,” in their handling of the release. In future, the survey team should put their consulting health experts front and centre, to anticipate some of the pushback that is certain to come from health administrators and professionals. Second, CBC needs to mount a persuasive argument for combining consumer popularity ratings with hard evidence on outcomes. Finally, the results for each hospital are scanty; it’s not clear how the various inputs have been weighted to produce the final grade. In the end, the picture that emerges is cloudy, although the overall trend is troubling enough to merit further investigation.

The current standings in the CBC hospitals survey, for Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley:

B overall: Abbotsford General, Chilliwack, Eagle Ridge, Langley, St Paul’s, Mount St Joseph, Peace Arch, Richmond

C overall: Lions Gate, Royal Columbian

D overall: Burnaby, Ridge Meadows, Surrey Memorial, UBC, Vancouver General

Not rated: Delta, Fraser Canyon, Mission Memorial

Not mentioned in the survey list: BC Children’s, BC Women’s

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