SARATOGA SPRINGS — Saratoga Hospital got an unexpected honor recently, when Newsweek named it one of the top hospitals in New York in its annual roundup of The World’s Best Hospitals.
Notably, Saratoga is the only community hospital and the smallest by far among the six facilities Newsweek placed on the New York list, which is based on three things: medical experts’ recommendations, patient surveys and a series of medical performance statistics such as readmission and reinfection rates.
“We’re very pleasantly surprised,” CEO Angelo Calbone said Tuesday. It’s not an honor that a hospital writes a compelling nomination for, he said, it’s one that’s conferred based on data. “You couldn’t do poorly in any one area and make this list.”
Saratoga Hospital recorded strong patient care metrics, but what is more gratifying is that those numbers were seen and appreciated, Calbone said. Feedback from patients on quality of care and from the medical community on where they’d send their patients if their hospital couldn’t take them weighs heavily in the ranking.
And this was during 2020. With the entire hospital under significant stress amid the pandemic, the medical and support staff generated high performance metrics and managed to insulate their patients from the stress to the point that patients gave them high marks afterward, Calbone said.
The six New York hospitals cited by Newsweek were, in order, Mount Sinai, New York-Presybyterian-Columbia-Cornell and NYU Langone, all in New York City and all also among the top 100 in the world; North Shore University, Manhasset; Strong Memorial, Rochester; and Saratoga Hospital.
Saratoga Hospital sits within one of the highest per-capita income counties in upstate New York and one of the only counties that is showing consistent population growth. Both of these factors are a significant advantage, giving the hospital justification and support to grow.
“It frankly would have been a little harder” without this, Calbone said.
Further, he said, “Many people who moved to Saratoga County moved from urban areas and had higher expectations. That has pushed us.”
Another factor assisting Saratoga Hospital: Its affiliation with Albany Medical Center, finalized in 2017. Calbone said the move has enabled Saratoga Hospital to create specialty practices it might not have been able to build on its own, and provides on-call physicians for programs such as its interventional cardiology practice.
He added that the bariatric surgery program draws patients from beyond the region, the orthopedic surgery programs have earned payer excellence awards and the wound care practice has a hyperbaric chamber.
Many community hospitals have some of these things, Calbone said, but few have so many of them.
The effort for more than a decade has been to grow with the community, he said, adding equipment, talent, practices and satellite facilities as Saratoga County’s population grew 14% in 20 years.
“I look at this Newsweek notoriety that we have at the moment as a recognition of the 10, 15, 20 years we’ve been moving in this direction,” Calbone said. “It is one big pat on the back for the institution.”
It also is something that helps sell the community to potential new residents, he said.
The year 2020 was, hopefully, a once-in-a-career experience for the 3,200 full- and part-time employees of Saratoga Hospital. The facility furloughed about 200 employees and cut the hours of 200 more at the height of the pandemic, when state directives and patient fears sharply reduced the amount of non-COVID medical care being provided on-site.
The hospital is long since back on track to normal, Calbone said, and hoping to restore 2021 revenue to 2019 levels — about $425 million.
The furloughed employees were recalled long ago and the hospital is now looking to hire roughly 100 new employees at all levels.
In this, Saratoga Hospital is hampered by one of the things that has boosted it: People working lower-wage jobs often can’t afford to live in Saratoga Springs or parts of Saratoga County.
“As relates to entry-level and support roles, yes, we have heard and continue to hear that affordable housing is a challenge,” Calbone said. “It’s not been something that’s inhibited keeping the place operational.”
Also, the labor market in the region is tight. And there’s a shortage of nurses in much of the hospital industry.
That’s a tougher hill to climb: Saratoga Hospital is competing with many other hospitals for the same limited number of nurses.