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Berkshire Medical Center Rated As Top Hospital

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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 Cheryl Boudreau, executive assistant to   David Phelps, admires the excellence award given to BMC. Top: Dr. Jack Ringler, left, Dr. Daniel Doyle, John Gottung, Bruce Cutter and Michele Franklin pose with pulmonary award.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — More than 152,000 lives could have been saved - if only they'd been treated at Berkshire Medical Center.

That's the finding of HealthGrades, the nation's leading health-care rating organization, which presented the hospital with its 2009 Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence for being in the top 5 percent of the nearly 5,000 medical institutions it surveys.

"We've been working at this for a very long time," said Berkshire Health Systems President David A. Phelps. "When you end up being the sole community provider of services people depend upon, you have to force yourself to be exceptional. Tonight has been a validation for us that we're making tremendous progress. ... It's a pretty remarkable achievement."

In fact, the presentation took up the bulk of BHS's annual meeting held Tuesday night at the Colonial theater. The election of trustees (George T. Smith, Timothy C. Doherty, Shepard D. Rainie, Brian H. Fairbank, Dr. Edmund H. Hornstein, Dr. John R. Kearns and Thomas O. Andrews) and corporators took only a few minutes.

Berkshire Health Systems knew BMC was getting the award two months ago but had to stay tight-lipped until the annual meeting; not even the employees were told about it. Only a select few, and those who attended last night's meeting, knew about the recognition.

It's a significant acknowledgment of the quality of the hospital's services, said Bob Donahue, vice president of HealthGrades.

Bob Donahue of HealthGrade gives background on his organization and the awards. HealthGrade offers online health-care ratings for consumers; it gets 6.5 million unique users a month
"You have a lot to be proud of. This is a very significant award," Donahue told the gathering in the darkened theater. "Patients really pay attention to quality ... they want to make sure they're being provided the best possible. They're getting excellent care at Berkshire Medical Center."

How does HealthGrade know that? By crunching data from some 41 million hospitalization records of Medicare recipients from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

BMC's award referred to records from the years 2005, 2006 and 2007 (it takes awhile to review that many records). Hospitals treating Medicare patients are rated according to outcomes in 26 separate diagnoses and procedures. Some 70 to 80 percent fall in the middle range, their outcomes not significantly different; 10 to 15 percent fall below that and 10 to 15 percent above.

The hospital fell into the top, or five-star, rating in all 26 categories, said Donahue. That also gave it a five-star rating treatment of stroke and heart attacks, and made it No. 1 in Massachusetts for critical care, pulmonary care and gastrointestinal treatment. It also scored a second award, the HealthGrades Pulmonary Care Excellence Award.

"It's a nice fuzzy moment in a rather bleak and cold Berkshire winter," said Dr. Daniel Doyle, medical director of critical care and division chief of pulmonary medicine.

Dr. Gray Ellrodt, COO Diane Kelly, President David A. Phelps, CFO Darlene Rodowicz and Chairwoman Susan Kormanik.
Patients at five-star rated hospitals are 27 percent less likely to die and 8 percent less likely to have major complications. Over the three-year period reviewed, 152,660 deaths could have been avoided if those patients had entered one of the 270 hospitals like BMC.

Doctors and health system leaders credited the collaborative and hardworking members of the health system community at all levels and the resources given them for achieving the ranking, one of only two awarded in Massachusetts for 2009.

Phelps choked up as he reflected on the long road the health system had taken to this moment "There were times when people weren't sure we could get here, so thank all of you for giving us this special moment tonight. The work you do is remarkable and our community is the better for it. Thank all of you."

When the health system's leadership was setting goals, Massachusetts General was the benchmark by which BMC was to measure itself. Coincidentally, MassGeneral was the other Bay State institution receiving the clinical excellence award.

"If you're a health-care consumer you have a right to expect that any hospital you go to for care should be as good as anywhere else," said Phelps. "To be as good as it would be at any big-name institution. ... We're think we're better."

Mayor James M. Ruberto read a resolution from the city congratulating the hospital, but quipped that the video presentation about BMC that declared "Right Here. BMC." should have read "Right Here in Pittsfield. BMC."

Elizabeth Cardona, director of Gov. Deval Patrick's Western Massachusetts office, arrived slightly late but with a large gift — a $500,000 Essential Community Provider Grant.

"These accomplishments directly translate into the increased savings of lives and the improvement in the quality of those lives," said Susan M. Kormanik, outgoing chairman of the board.

But she was somewhat exasperated that too little attention had been paid locally to those accomplishments.

"I have sometimes been frustrated that it remains the biggest secret in Berkshire County just how good we are."
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