FILE - PA hospital 5-21-2019

Abington-Lansdale Hospital, seen May 21, 2019, in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, was one of the facilities to earn an "A" grade in Leapfrog's fall 2019 report.

The third leading cause of death in the United States is not cancer, traffic accidents or even heart disease according to a nonprofit health care watchdog group.

It’s medical errors, according to Leapfrog, which issues hospital safety grades twice a year.

Pennsylvania hospitals were ranked 6th overall in Leapfrog’s fall safety grades, up from 18th in the spring. And while there are some “Cs” and “Ds,” about half of the state’s hospitals received an “A” ranking.

Eight of the state’s hospitals received a “D.” They are: Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, Mercy Health System-Nazareth Hospital, Ohio Valley General Hospital, Pottstown Hospital, St. Luke’s Gnaden Huetten Campus, Warren General Hospital and Wilkes-Barre General Hospital.

Maine, Utah, Virginia, Oregon and North Carolina were the states with the state’s safest hospitals, according to the report with New York, West Virginia, Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota rounding out the bottom five.

Leapfrog began its safety grading reports 7½ years ago, said Leah Binder, the nonprofit’s president and CEO.

“The most important thing to recognize is that there are real differences in safety performance between hospitals,” Binder said. “No hospital is perfectly safe and even in the hospitals that earn an ‘A’ and earned an ‘A’ many times in a row, things still happen. But generally, we know that ‘A’ hospitals are safer than ‘B,’C,’ ‘D,’ and so on.”

Leapfrog looks at what hospitals are doing to prevent errors as well as how often errors occur, Binder said. Some of the critical incidents they monitor include infections, blood clots and collapsed lungs.

The horror of an object left inside of someone after surgery is rare but does happen, Binder said. Hospitals use a variety of safety techniques to prevent the error from advanced technology that scans a patient before they are sewn up to simply counting sponges to make sure they are all outside the patient’s body.

The group releases its report in the spring and fall every year.

“We update our grades every six months because we like to be able to use the most recent information that’s available about a hospital,” Binder said.

The report comes 20 years after the Institute of Medicine released its report, “To Err is Human,” which revealed more than 100,000 people died each year due to medical errors that are preventable.

Since that time there have been some improvements. A report this year from the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality showed that deaths from medical errors had declined by an estimated 46,000 from 2016.