The award for clinical excellence received by Berkshire Medical Center speaks to the high caliber of care at the Pittsfield hospital. That it has won the award twice in four years testifies to the determination of BMC and Berkshire Health Systems to maintain its high standards while exploring ways to improve.

BMC has received the Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence from HealthGrades, a leading provider of comprehensive information about doctors and hospitals, which gave BMC the same award in 2009. The award puts BMC in the top 5 percent of more than 4,500 American hospitals in terms of patient care. HealthGrades said it was the comprehensive, top-quality care across many clinical specialties that separated BMC and the other hospitals in the top 5 percent from the others.

Denver-based HealthGrades judged BMC's performance on data from 2009 through 2011, a deep three-year pool of information. BMC was found to have a 30.9 percent lower risk-adjusted mortality rate as compared to hospitals outside the top 5 percent. The hospital was also cited for its low percentage of complications following surgery and its treatment of patients who are bed-ridden and susceptible to additional ailments. Within the last two years, BMC has been recognized for its pulmonary, gastrointestinal and critical care, among other achievements.

BMC's accomplishments are particularly noteworthy in that the hospital is located in a small city in a largely rural area. These honors will not only give Berkshire residents and potential patients peace of mind but they should ideally encourage physicians to come here, as well as nurses and specialists eager to work at a top hospital. As a major employer and economic engine for the Berkshires, BMC's continued success is of critical importance to the short- and long-term success of the county.

In a meeting at The Eagle, Dr. Gray Ellrodt, BHS' chief quality officer, said BMC would be developing a palliative care program, addressing the mental and physical anguish of patients that was the subject of a ballot initiative last year. Increased diabetes outreach and reducing the number of patients who return within a month of discharge will also be on the agenda as Berkshire Medical Center seeks to raise the high bar of care it has established.