Leapfrog gives nearly 1,000 hospitals a 'C' for patient safety, but a handful of states are making significant strides

The Leapfrog Group has released its fall hospital safety grades, and more than a third earned only a middling score on the report. 

The safety grades are released twice a year and assign letter grades from "A" to "F" to hospitals across the country. About a third of hospitals overall earned an "A" from Leapfrog: 832 of the 2,632 hospitals rated this fall.

But many hospitals earned a "C" grade or lower. Leapfrog awarded 662 "B" grades, 964 "C" grades, 159 "D" grades and 15 "F" grades.

"Errors and infections in hospitals are the third-leading cause of death in America, and people deserve to know which of their hospitals are best at preventing them," said Leah Binder, CEO of Leapfrog, in an announcement.

RELATED: Leapfrog Group says hospitals are often ill-equipped to care for high risk babies 

The good news: A handful of states have shown significant improvement over the five years that Leapfrog has been ranking hospitals. The five states with the biggest improvements include Rhode Island, which ranked as the best state overall on the most recent report, was ranked 50th in 2012. 

Oregon jumped from a 48th ranking in 2012 to eighth this year, and Hawaii went from 36th to third. Wisconsin's ranking increased from 44th to sixth, and Idaho increased from 19th to fourth. 

Binder credits those improvements, at least in part, to national organizations such as her own that make quality data public.

“What we’ve learned is that transparency has a real impact on patient safety," she said. "We’ve galvanized major changes in these states and many communities.” 

Maryland was included in the state rankings for the first time, as prior to this most recent report it was exempt from reporting several safety measures on a national level. Maryland ranked 48th in its first appearance in Leapfrog's safety grades, with just one hospital in the state, Howard County General Hospital, earning an "A" ranking. 

RELATED: Most hospitals fall short on ICU staffing standards 

Other findings from the fall update to the safety grades include: 

  • Fifty-nine hospitals have earned an "A" ranking in each of the safety grades since its inception.
  • Rhode Island, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho and Virginia are the states with the highest percentage of "A"-ranked hospitals.
  • North Dakota, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Maryland and New York had the lowest percent of hospitals earning an "A" grade.
  • Hospitals with an "F" safety grade are located in eight states: California, New York, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi and Tennessee. 

The Leapfrog Group's findings are in line with its most recent patient safety grades, which also awarded about a third of U.S. hospitals an "A" in the spring and last fall

Critics of its rating system have called into question its reliance of self-reported safety data. Hospitals that self-reported compliance with Leapfrog's Safe Practices did not necessarily have lower hospital-acquired infection rates or lower federal readmission penalties, a University of Michigan study found

Leapfrog said in response to the findings that hospitals that try to game their system are typically "frustrated" by the attempt.