Hospital Radiology Technitian Suzy Lehr and portable ultrasound machine

Hospital Radiology Technician Suzy Lehr wheels the new fresh-out-of-the-box portable ultrasound machine into service.

Superlatives seem almost routine for the Wallowa Memorial Hospital these days.

Last week the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) awarded it a coveted five-star rating for quality care. In Oregon, only OHSU, and eight others, including WMH, received five-star recognition. Providence St. Mary’s in Walla Walla also received a five star rating.

The hospital’s five-star rating is based upon seven aspects of quality, including safety of care, effectiveness of care, and timeliness of care. Data for the rankings were collected between July 2015 and December 2018. Wallowa Memorial Hospital is one of the smallest and most rural hospitals among the 407 facilities nationwide to receive a 5-star rank, and the only rural hospital in Oregon to be awarded the top rating. The CMS report rated 4,586 hospitals across the country. The ranking places WMH in the top 9%.

CMS is a federal agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that administers the Medicare program and works in partnership with state governments to administer Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and health insurance portability standards.

“This award really reflects the excellence of our physicians, nurses, and staff,” said WMH CEO Larry Davy. “That’s our foundation.” He added that the quality awareness program run by Stacy Karvoski and Dr. Elizabeth Powers has made everyone mindful of ways to be more efficient, improve access, and have positive outcomes.

“We also invest in top line equipment, systems, and services,” Davy said. “We have kept updating our equipment, so that we have state-of-the-art diagnostic labs.”

That shiny new equipment includes a just-unboxed portable ultrasound machine, purchased to the tune of about $48,000. The hospital is also replacing its X-ray machine, which was new in 2007, but now has reached the end of its reliable life. WHM’s conventional X-ray facility will be closed for the month of February while the new $235,891 machine is installed. Instead of the standard X-ray equipment, WMH will be using a second portable machine, which GE, the maker of the new equipment, is providing while the new equipment is installed, Davy said.

Did WHM’s frequent need to transfer patients to larger facilities for more complex procedures influence the hospital’s rating, both Davy and Karvoski said that it would only have impacted the timeliness of care metric. “It means we are have a rapid decision process to transfer patients who need more specialized care in a timely manner,” Davy said.

The nationwide report gives patients the ability to choose which hospital they want to go to for a procedure. “You can go online to see how different hospitals measure up,” Karvoski said. “You can go to the hospital compare website (www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare) and look at all these metrics and how each hospital scored to help guide your decision making about where you want to get your care.”

Wallowa Memorial Hospital will not get a tangible award as part of this recognition—no monetary grant, no plaque to hang on the wall, no trophy for a trophy case. “At the end of the day, it’s the satisfaction of providing great patient care,” said Karvoski. “That’s the reward.”

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