just what the doctor ordered

Houston recognized among the best hospital cities in the nation

Houston, home to the largest medical center in the world, was ranked among the best cities for health care in the country. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

As home to Texas Medical Center — the world's largest medical complex — it stands to reason that Houston ranks among the country's best cities for health care. A new study bolsters that notion, but it also points out that several health care measures in Houston need some TLC.

The study, conducted by digital health care provider Medbelle, ranks Houston as the ninth best "hospital city" in the United States. Medbelle sifted through data in three categories (health care infrastructure, quality of health care and access to health care) to develop the ranking. Within those categories, Medbelle examined factors like quality of medical education, number of hospital beds, shortage of nurses, efficiency of cancer treatment, and prevalence of mental health specialists.

"Houston is known internationally as the home of one of the best medical communities in the world," the City of Houston declares.

In the Medbelle study, Boston landed at No. 1 in the U.S.; Tokyo took the global crown. At No. 13, Dallas was the only other Texas city to earn a place on the U.S. list.

Medbelle says it compiled the ranking to highlight regional hospital "ecosystems" rather than specific hospitals. The Houston area has more than 85 hospitals.

Houston's hospital ecosystem scored 94.92 out of 100, yet sits in next-to-last place for access to health care (48.83 out of 100), Medbelle notes. Daniel Kolb, co-founder and managing director of Medbelle, says this means that while Houston enjoys one of the best medical infrastructures in the world, a relatively small percentage of people in the region can take advantage of it.

In 2018, nearly 1 in 5 residents of the Houston area (18.6 percent) lacked health insurance, the U.S. Census Bureau says. That's the highest rate of uninsured residents among the country's 25 most populous metro areas. Affordability and availability continue to exacerbate the health insurance predicament in Houston and around the country.

"The single biggest issue in health care for most Americans is that their health costs are growing much faster than their wages are," Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, says in a release. "Costs are prohibitive when workers making $25,000 a year have to shell out $7,000 a year just for their share of family premiums."

For those who can afford medical care, the Houston area boasts some of the best hospitals in the U.S. MD Anderson Cancer Center reigns as the country's top cancer hospital, for instance.

In May, The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit representing large employers in the U.S., assigned its highest grade — "A" — to these nine hospitals in the Houston area:

  • HCA Houston Healthcare (Kingwood)
  • Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital
  • Houston Methodist West Hospital
  • Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center
  • Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital
  • Tomball Regional Medical Center
  • West Houston Medical Center

From another perspective, U.S. News & World Report ranks Houston Methodist Hospital as the best hospital in the Houston area, followed by Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, and Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital.

Meanwhile, Houston-area physicians hold Texas Children's Hospital West Campus in the highest regard among the region's hospitals, trailed by Houston Methodist West Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas Children's Hospital, and Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Houston hospitals got their report cards. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Close to half of the Houston area's general acute-care hospitals are at the top of their class, according to new safety grades assigned to U.S. hospitals. But one hospital in the region is failing on the safety front, the grades show.

In its fall 2019 report card for acute-care hospitals, The Leapfrog Group gives letter grades of A, B, C, D, and F based on the hospitals' ability to shield patients from avoidable errors, injuries, accidents, and infections. The nonprofit represents hundreds of public and private employers that buy healthcare benefits.

In the Houston area, 19 hospitals earned an A, with 14 receiving a B, seven getting a C, one picking up a D and one being slapped with an F.

Chris Skisak, executive director of the Houston Business Coalition on Health, notes that 23 percent of hospitals in the Houston areas saw their Leapfrog grades go up while just 11 percent saw their grades go down. The coalition is a regional leader for The Leapfrog Group.

"Houston-area hospitals do care about their grades," Skisak says, "and going back to 2016, most obtained a higher grade after receiving a lower grade the previous assessment period. Houston is fortunate to have [about] 50 percent of its hospitals earn consistent A grades."

For the first time in at least four years, The Leapfrog Group did hit one Houston-area hospital — Huntsville Memorial Hospital — with an F. On the spring 2019 report card, the hospital received a D. In the fall of 2018, the mark was a C.

Huntsville Memorial Hospital currently is combating what's been described as a "dire financial situation."

In a November 1 statement, the Walker County Hospital District, which owns the Huntsville hospital, said the separate nonprofit entity that runs the hospital — Walker County Hospital Corp. — was beset by monetary woes and was on the verge of declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. As a result, the district warned, the hospital might close.

According to The Huntsville Item, a proposed rescue of the hospital would place ownership and management in the hands of a joint venture between the hospital district and Plano-based Community Hospital Corp., a hospital management company. The nonprofit Plano company provides supply-chain services to a Huntsville medical practice, Huntsville Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine PLLC.

In the statement, the district's board says it "remains committed to maintaining a viable hospital for the community and to improving hospital operations and services."

The Leapfrog Group graded a total of 42 hospitals in the Houston area. The nonprofit released its fall 2019 report card on November 7.

Houston-area hospitals that earned an A were:

  • Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe
  • HCA Houston Healthcare West
  • Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Houston Methodist West Hospital
  • Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann Southeast
  • Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann Northeast, Humble
  • Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Kingwood
  • CHI St. Luke's Health Memorial Livingston
  • Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital in Nassau Bay
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland
  • Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital
  • CHI St. Luke's Health The Woodlands Hospital
  • Houston Methodist The Woodlands Hospital
  • Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital
  • HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake in Webster

Skisak says the Leapfrog report card "is a valuable resource for employers to share with their employees so that they can self-navigate to the safest and highest quality hospitals."

"The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade offers critical patient safety information to consumers, in an easily digestible way, so that they can make informed decisions about where they seek care in the Houston area," he says in a release.

The Leapfrog Group bases its twice-a-year grades for hospital safety on 28 sets of publicly available data from more than 2,600 U.S. hospitals.