Op-ed: It’s time for Stanford to face the facts

May 8, 2018, 5:00 a.m.

In a recent guest column in the Palo Alto Daily Post, a defender of Stanford Health Care used a mix of misleading and incorrect statements and “facts” taken from dubious sources, including the organization for which the author, Julie Morath, is president and CEO – the Hospital Quality Institute.

It turns out, the organization is part of the California Hospital Association (CHA), the Sacramento lobbying voice for hospitals in the state to which Stanford pays dues and is a member. Another organization she cites – the California Hospital Patient Safety Organization – is also connected with the CHA. Yet a third organization she names, Vizient, is a private membership-based consortium established primarily for the purpose of obtaining group purchasing discounts on behalf of its member hospitals.

None of these organizations will publicly release the data on which they base their conclusions. So much for objectivity.

The health care workers in our union have raised concerns about the quality of care at Stanford Health Care, based not on the conclusions of bought and paid-for organizations, but drawn exclusively from objective, publicly available sources like the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Here’s the real story.

  • Stanford ranks among the worst in the state and nation on postoperative sepsis rates for all hospitals, according to CMS’s most recent data from July 1, 2014 through Sept. 30, 2015. Stanford Health Care ranked 237th worst out of 251 California hospitals on postoperative sepsis cases per 1,000 discharges; nationally, it ranked 2,494th worst out of 2,687 hospitals.
  • Morath claims that Stanford plays a major role in the community by “accepting complex patients with infection, potential infections and those with pre-existing conditions that put them at risk for infection.” But Stanford consistently scores worse on infection metrics than other academic hospitals that also take complex medical cases. Stanford’s most current standardized infection ratios for five of the six healthcare-associated infections tracked by CMS are worse than those at the University of California Medical Center, UC Davis Medical Center, Cedars-Sinai, The Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Hospital, according to CMS.
  • Stanford Health Care fares no better when compared to hospitals at large. For the most recent three fiscal years, 2016 through 2018, CMS has penalized Stanford Health Care’s inpatient Medicare reimbursement rates by 1 percent for being in the bottom 25 percent in hospital-acquired condition metrics, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as MRSA.
  • Morath claims that Stanford Health Care had “zero cases of MRSA in the last year.” But during CMS’s most recently available reporting period, covering July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017, the hospital had 20 cases of healthcare-associated MRSA, according to CMS.

The objective data raise serious concerns about the quality of care at Stanford Health Care. The best way for Stanford to change the facts is not by citing biased data, but by admitting the problem exists and putting in place a plan to fix it. For both Stanford and the patients it serves, honesty would definitely be the best policy.


Kurt Scott is Assistant Research Director for the Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West, which represents 1,800 workers at Stanford University Medical Center.

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