Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay hospital death rates trending up: CIHI report

New data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows more people are dying in the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre than five years ago.

Canadian Institute for Health Information data shows rates still lower than provincial, national averages

(Wendy Bird/CBC)

New data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows more people are dying in the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre than five years ago.

But while the death rate for the hospital is still below both provincial and national averages, the new number should garner hospital officials’ full attention, said Kira Leeb, a spokesperson with the institute.

Kira Leeb is director, Health System Performance with the Canadian Institute for Health Information . (Supplied)

Leeb noted the data can be a useful tool for hospitals.

“Hospitals have the ability themselves to really pick apart this number, and that's what we want them to do ... really to drill into this number and ask which patient populations are affecting them.”

The numbers show a general upward trend for hospital deaths in Thunder Bay, while provincial and national averages have gradually declined.

'Good news,' but ...

The stat that CIHI uses is called the Hospital Standardized Mortality Ratio, which assigns a number to a hospital that represents the number of deaths there relative to a benchmark statistic.

That benchmark is the expected death rate and is shown as 100. An individual hospital's score is then relative to that. If the number is below 100, the mortality rate is lower than the expected rate. A number above 100 means the mortality rate is higher than the expected rate.

The Thunder Bay hospital’s score is 81.

"So it's good news. It shows less death than expected,” Leeb said.

The average among hospitals in the the Northwest Local Health Integration Network is 84. Ontario's average is 83 and Canada's average, minus Quebec, is 85.

Five years ago, the Thunder Bay hospital’s score was 68.

Not all deaths are factored into the stat, Leeb noted.

Things like palliative care patients aren't included. But the stat does reflect about 80 per cent of deaths that occur in hospital.

"What you do want to pay attention to — and it's the reason why we publish this on an annual basis — if it starts to trend up, those are things that you want to start flagging."

The report notes stroke and heart failure are the two leading causes of death in Canadian hospitals.

Thunder Bay Regional aware of the trend

Hospital vice-president Dr. Mark Henderson said the Health Sciences Centre already planned to do what CIHI suggested, and will dig into the numbers.

Hospital vice-president Dr. Mark Henderson said there are several reasons why the death rate at Thunder Bay Regional may be slightly trending up. He said the hospital will look into the numbers. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"Anything like this makes us do, what we call a deeper dive, to try and explain why we're seeing this trend," he said Thursday. "But there are certainly, just off the top of one's head, obvious things that .... could easily account for the relatively small change."

Henderson pointed to several possibilities, including the hospital taking on sicker and more complex cases as it matures, the general aging of the area's population, and a higher rate in the region of patients coming to hospital with additional health issues. Henderson cited the example of a hip replacement patient also being overweight or having heart trouble.

He said the trend doesn't necessarily reflect the standard of care, adding "it may be much more due to the population that we see here."


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