FARMINGTON — Franklin Memorial Hospital’s safety grade has dropped from an A to a C, turning it from one of Maine’s highest-rated hospitals into one of its lowest in six months. 

Hospital officials say the problem is not with safety but with the fact that they weren’t able to submit a key staff survey in time. They said the hospital also doesn’t yet have a full electronic medical records system, which counted against it.

“I feel OK about the drop because I know that the important areas around infections and complications from hospitalization all are good and solid,” said Mavis Dubord, vice president for quality, patient safety and physician practices.

But the group that graded Franklin Memorial said that missing survey accounted for less than 3 percent of the hospital’s grade. It said Franklin Memorial earned a low grade largely because the hospital had a worsening rate of a particular infection, an increase in patient falls and at least one incident in the past two years in which a dangerous object was left in a patient’s body after surgery.

The hospital grades were released this week by The Leapfrog Group, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks health care safety, quality and value. The organization grades hospitals on safety twice a year.

Sixteen Maine hospitals were graded this fall. Of those, 10 earned A’s and four earned B’s. Only two — Franklin Memorial and Maine Medical Center in Portland, both MaineHealth affiliates — earned C’s.

Franklin Memorial had been earning straight A’s since fall 2013.

Hospital officials said they knew they might see a dip because they weren’t able to submit a key, staffwide “Culture of Safety” survey to Leapfrog by the organization’s deadline.

The 70-bed hospital also does not have a full electronic medical record system in place and won’t until 2018 — though Dubord acknowledged that hasn’t changed from the last grading period, during which Franklin Memorial got an A. Leapfrog values electronic medical records for patient safety.

Dubord also said the measures Franklin Memorial did poorly on were given more weight. 

“Because they’re pushing us to get better and to make patient care safer and to have us work harder to do everything possible to be as safe as possible. So it’s good. But once in a while we miss a mark,” she said. “I would feel incredibly bad if we were missing the mark because some of those clinically related safety measures of complications, infection rates. But this one, I can sleep at night.”

Leapfrog, however, said Franklin Memorial did have problems with clinical measures.

While the hospital’s complication rates and MRSA infection and surgical site infection rates were among the best-rated, its Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection rate had worsened and was very poor. C. diff is a potentially deadly bacteria that can spread easily and be very difficult to kill.

Franklin Memorial had one of the worst scores for leaving an object in a patient’s body after surgery, with an incident for roughly one of every 3,000 patients over a two-year period. The average hospital had one incident in 40,000 patients. The best hospitals had none.

Dubord, one of the officials responsible for patient safety at Franklin Memorial, said she wasn’t sure what happened with the hospital’s C. diff infection rate. She also could not address an object left in a patient’s body.

“I don’t really feel I have enough information to comment on that one,” she said.

St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston got an A in this fall’s grades. Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston got a B.

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