Special Report

Cities Where You Don't Want to Get Sick

7. Altoona, PA
> Readmission rate: 15.3%
> Avg. 30 day mortality rate: 15.1%
> Hospital safety score grade: C
> Preventable hospitalizations: 57.7 per 1,000 patients

Based on a range of measures of practices and outcomes, Altoona metro area hospitals are the worst in Pennsylvania and among the worst in the country. Of those admitted to area hospitals, 15.1% die within 30 days, a higher mortality rate than in all but 16 other U.S. metros. The area’s high mortality rate is largely driven by an especially high pneumonia mortality rate. Nearly one in five patients admitted for pneumonia in Altoona die within 30 days, far more than is typical across the country.

The poor outcomes may be due to outdated prescription practices, and poor communication about medicines, which can lead to medical errors. The UPMC Altoona hospital received below average marks for each of these practices. The hospital also reported an above average incidence of avoidable infections.

6. Elmira, NY
> Readmission rate: 16.4%
> Avg. 30 day mortality rate: 12.7%
> Hospital safety score grade: D
> Preventable hospitalizations: 90.6 per 1,000 patients

Mortality rates from heart and lung-related diseases are generally high in the 10 worst cities in which to get sick. Yet, the 13.9% death rate among patients admitted for pneumonia at hospitals in the Elmira area is among the lowest in the nation. Still, the mortality rates in Elmira for other respiratory conditions such as whooping cough and for heart-related ailments such as stroke are all above average. Also, for every 1,000 hospitalizations in the area, 91 could have been prevented, nearly the highest preventable hospitalization rate of all U.S. metros.

As is often the case in areas with poorly rated hospitals, Elmira residents are not especially wealthy. The city’s poverty rate of 18.7% is well above the national rate of 15.5% and one of the highest in New York. People living in poverty are at greater risk of adverse health outcomes.

5. Yuba City, CA
> Readmission rate: 15.5%
> Avg. 30 day mortality rate: 14.2%
> Hospital safety score grade: D
> Preventable hospitalizations: 53.3 per 1,000 patients

In addition to factors such as age, past medical history, and other conditions that increase the chances of dying, the quality of care at a hospital can also be a major factor affecting an area’s mortality rate. Even when adjusting for these risk factors, Yuba City metro area hospital patients have a higher likelihood of dying from heart-related ailments and procedures such as stroke, coronary artery bypass surgery, and heart failure, as well as from whooping cough and pneumonia, than Americans nationwide.

Unlike most cities on this list, the level of preventable hospitalizations in Yuba City of 53.3 per 1,000 patients is lower than the national rate. However, the Leapfrog Group still rated gave hospitals a D, nearly the lowest grade possible. The Fremont Medical Center received the worst score in the country for its Intensive Care Unit.

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