South Jersey's hospitals have some of the nation's most esteemed programs as rated by national accrediting boards.

For hospitals, accreditation is a stamp of approval, an objective endorsement for each institution's best practices, experience and competency.

For patients, accreditation can mean peace of mind that the institution they choose offers the latest treatments and most expertise to help them get better.

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Three major hospital-accrediting institutions handle accreditation, including the Joint Com-mission and Det Norske Veritas Healthcare Inc. The reviews are as expensive as they are exhaustive. Fees alone can cost more than $30,000.

"It requires a lot of resources," said Aline Holmes, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Hospital Association.

"They have to spend money to get the certifications. From a consumer point of view, those kinds of report cards are of value when you can select the hospital you go to. That doesn't happen very often. But for elective surgery, it's good."

Hospitals typically seek institution-wide accreditation as a requirement to get Medicare reimbursement, she said.

• AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center was recognized by the Joint Commission for its heart-failure and stroke-treatment programs. It also is an accredited hospital with certifications in behavioral health care, home care and hospice.

• The Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation in Galloway Town-ship is accredited in brain-injury and stroke rehabilitation.

• Cape Regional Medical Center also is accredited through the Joint Commission and was recognized as a top performer for the care of heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia and surgical care.

• Inspira Medical Center in Vineland and Bridgeton is accredited through Det Norske Veritas Healthcare Inc. Inspira's cancer center is also accredited.

• Shore Medical Center in Somers Point is accredited through the Joint Commission with certification in spinal surgery and joint replacement for knees and hips. It also has advanced certification in stroke.

Cape Regional also has advanced certification in inpatient diabetes care and certification in wound care, among others.

President and CEO Joanne Carrocino in a statement said accreditations and certifications show hospitals such as Cape Regional are delivering the highest quality healthcare to patients.

"Our entire team of physicians, nurses and staff are commended for achieving these accreditations and for their commitment to delivering the highest possible levels of quality, safety and patient care," she said.

Besides affording a third-party seal of approval, Inspira spokesman Paul Simon said accreditation gives hospitals a measure that leads to better results.

"It provides the organization with the kind of information and feedback needed to constantly improve," he said.

Simon said Det Norske Veritas' accreditation is annual and gives hospitals more flexibility in meeting benchmarks.

"They're less prescriptive. If you have developed a process that works for your patients and facilities, they will approve of it," he said. "It allows for more individuality and customization."

Simon said an institution's pursuit of accreditation can be attractive to prospective job candidates, as for example through Inspira's national recognition for nursing excellence through the American Nurses Credential Center's Magnet Recognition Program.

"That's a very exhaustive process that looks at the nursing department very closely," he said. "There is data that shows Magnet hospitals do have an edge when recruiting."

In some cases, the professionals in a department or program urge their hospital board to seek accreditation on their behalf, said Dr. Joan Brennan, vice president of Quality and Performance Excellence at AtlantiCare.

"They're proud of what they do and they want to demonstrate that they do meet that top performance list," she said. "We're proud of it. We promote it to let consumers know we've gone above and beyond to get external validation of the services we provide."

Brennan said it's not always easy for patients to compare medical programs since accreditation and certification are performed by so many diverse organizations.

AtlantiCare has more than 40 accreditations in a list that is constantly changing. For example, the hospital for years attained accreditation for its hip and knee replacements but decided recently its consistently good results did not warrant a redundant and expensive re-examination.

"There are all these report cards that patients can get, from U.S. News & World Report to Hospital Compare to state-level reports. It can be very confusing to consumers," Brennan said. "There is no one central place to get this information. I applaud the day we have a national database and an opportunity for a consumer to go to one place to get information about all health-care services."

But for patients who are interested in digging, results can be found online at the different accrediting boards. But Brennan suggested patients talk to their doctors, who can point them to the latest reports.

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