Health-Care Advocate Makes the Grade

Leah Binder ’84
James Daigle Photography
Leah Binder ’84

Leah Binder ’84 still carries the lesson she learned two decades ago as a young mother with a sick son.

Henry was three weeks old and unable to hold down milk when Binder and her husband took him to a pediatrician. The physician told the new parents they were overreacting and sent them on their way.

Still concerned about their baby’s discomfort, the Binders returned and demanded the doctor examine their son. That’s when the doctor discovered a bump on Henry’s belly, a sign of pyloric stenosis, a potentially life-threatening abdominal blockage.

“You can’t depend on the health-care system to always put your interests first,” says Binder. “We learned that in the most difficult way possible, through our own child’s suffering.”

Since 2000, Binder has been president and CEO of the Leapfrog Group, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy organization created after an Institute of Medicine report, “To Err Is Human,” revealed that as many as 100,000 people die each year from hospital errors and accidents. Medication error is the biggest category of mistakes made.

Leapfrog aims to reduce such errors and accidents by collecting information about a hospital’s performance and awarding it a letter grade. Every April and October, Leapfrog releases report cards using an A-F grading system the organization pioneered. Massachusetts hospitals, Binder notes, typically rank at the top.

The Hospital Safety Grade is designed to give patients an important assessment tool, while also compelling hospitals to improve their checks and balances to safeguard against errors.

Grades are available online for individuals and employers shopping for group health-insurance plans. Some facilities even tie CEO compensation to Leapfrog letter grades.

Not all hospital administrators are fans of her work, Binder says, though its impact is undeniable. Last year, Modern Healthcare magazine named her one of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare.

It was at Brandeis that the politics major/women’s studies minor learned the importance of “the role we as citizens must play to live in a just society,” she says. “Brandeis was always about fairness and people standing up for each other.

“I learned that if you don’t speak up, you can’t assume somebody else will.”

— Andy Faught