A national group has deemed 13 rural hospitals to be the best in the country.
Of the 13, five are in Maine.
"Maine has done something that's really amazing," said Missy Danforth, senior director for hospital ratings for the Leapfrog Group, a Washington D.C.-based organization that tracks health care safety, quality and value and uses that information to name the best hospitals in the country each year.
The five rural Maine hospitals recognized for 2012 are: Calais Regional Hospital, Inland Hospital in Waterville, Mount Desert Island Hospital Organization, Rumford Hospital and Sebasticook Valley Health.
Maine is the only state to have more than one rural hospital on the list. The other hospitals are in Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Tennessee.
To make the list, a hospital must have completed a Leapfrog survey and must have received high scores in safety, quality and use of resources.
"It's fabulous. I think it shows the attention that hospitals in the state of Maine pay to the outlying areas that they serve," said Randall Dustin, who spoke for Central Maine Healthcare, which includes Rumford Hospital and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. "Rumford, they're ecstatic about this. They think it's tremendous. The health care environment right now is tough, so something like this just buoys everybody's spirits."
He said the recognition represents a long-term effort by Rumford Hospital to improve quality and care.
Although two Maine hospitals made the list together in past years, this is the first time five have. Leapfrog largely credits the Maine Health Management Coalition, a Portland-based nonprofit group of employers, hospitals, insurers and doctors dedicated to improving health care, because that group has pushed hospitals to complete Leapfrog's survey and publicly report their data.
About 1,200 hospitals nationwide completed the most recent Leapfrog survey. In Maine, all eligible hospitals completed it, a compliance rate unheard of in the rest of the country.
That public reporting means employers and patients can see how good a hospital is. The better a hospital, the more likely those employers are to put that hospital in its preferred provider network for insurance and the more likely patients are to use it.
Hospitals make more money when more people use them, so hospitals feel the pressure to report — and then feel the pressure to improve their scores.
"This is really an accomplishment that benefits everybody," said Elizabeth Mitchell, CEO of the Maine Health Management Coalition. "We really need to recognize how important this is to patients and what an achievement it is by the hospitals. This is a really big deal."