Volume 75, Number 25 | November 09 - 15, 2005

Talking Point


Emergency! St. Vincent’s needs to start shaping up

By Ed Gold

St. Vincent’s has been my hospital for a good part of my adult life. I have found the doctors there conscientious, efficient and at times inspiring. I can’t recall a nurse who wasn’t friendly, supportive, dependable or overworked.

Having said that, I must say that the hospital system is not patient friendly. There is an organizational glitch that shows up frequently, one that the office of Leonard Walsh, the hospital’s new executive director, should want to correct.

A repeated flaw occurs when a patient needs a room. My first experience with this problem occurred five years ago when I broke a hip and lay in the ER for seven hours waiting for an available bed.

It hurts to read that the hospital has filed for bankruptcy in spite of the evidence to many patients that the place seems S.R.O.

It reminds me of the Yogi-ism that “no one goes to that restaurant anymore because you can’t get a table.”

Recently I was in the hospital for a four-hour heart procedure, after which I was pretty worn out. I was told as my stretcher moved down the hall after the procedure that I was headed for a room where a bed awaited and where I could get some needed rest.

Instead, I found myself on my stretcher in a cardiac room that reminded me of Grand Central Station.

My stretcher was left near a pair of swinging entrance doors, and innocent staffers who didn’t know I was there would bump into the stretcher as they entered.

I had been told during the heart procedure that body fluids would be steadily moving south, and that situation occurred as I lay in no-man’s land. I spotted one of the doctors who had assisted during the procedure and shouted that I needed help. He got the message and hastily found the instrument I needed to provide me with relief despite the lack of any privacy.

Finally, I was moved into a room and into my own bed. But it seemed more a way station than a room. Almost all patients there were being discharged in a day or so. I believe there were six beds in the area which opened into a workstation where doctors, nurses, attendants and clerics worked right through the night. It was always noisy.

It was almost impossible to get any sleep. I believe I did doze off at about 3:45 a.m. but was awakened 15 minutes later for blood work.

There are other operational hazards.

Records don’t always move from one hospital department to the next in a timely fashion. In preparation for the heart procedure, blood had been taken in the ER. When I arrived to have the procedure, I was informed I would need blood work. “I’ve had that done,” I told the interviewing staffer. “We have no record of it,” she answered. After I explained when it had been done she made a call and then told me: “Yes, they did take blood but they never got around to sending the results to us. They’re in the process of doing it now. Thanks for calling it to our attention.”

Important equipment occasionally breaks down. Vital in my procedure was a computer registering heartbeat. As the procedure began, the computer was registering garbage. It apparently hadn’t been checked out in advance. The surgeon stopped the procedure until a technician could make sure the computer was in good working order.

Twice EKG machines wouldn’t print readable results and had to be replaced, and once an automatic blood pressure machine had an electrical failure which had to be fixed.

Then there was the silly policy that defied common sense. I was instructed by the surgeon to lie on my back until 9:30 p.m. Dinner was served at 7:30. Could they delay service? I was told politely No. I managed the beef, using a fork. But forget the peas and the rice, most of which would have wound up on my stomach instead of in it.

The morning after the procedure I was to be dismissed if all was well, and I had to alert an escort to pick me up.

A young doctor examined me, found everything in order and said he would formally discharge me once he checked with the surgeon who had performed the procedure.

More than an hour passed. I called the surgeon’s office and was told he was off for the day. How would I get discharged? I phoned my cardiologist and he told the hospital to let me go home.

Coincidentally, I recently ran into an old friend, Norman Rosenfeld, a highly regarded architect, community activist and former member of Community Board 2. He told me he had written St. Vincent’s Executive Director Walsh recently about some of the same issues I have raised. Like me, he and his wife consider St. Vincent’s their hospital.

In his letter to Walsh he noted: “I appreciate that you have been brought in to turn around the financial difficulties of the hospital. But there are major problems with how your patients are treated. The best care in the city cannot improve finances...if you ignore patient comfort and caring.”

He noted that his wife, who is frail, was subject to a “standing-room-only” situation for more than an hour prior to a physical therapy appointment and “that’s not a patient-focused experience.” He added that he had his own “negative experience” last year in the ER.

Mr. Rosenfeld mentioned in his letter that “as you know there are many healthcare choices for your affluent Village constituency — it’s important for the leadership to make St. Vincent’s the first place of choice.”

His last sentence summed it up nicely: “There is nothing more important than that your patients should select St. Vincent’s for both care and caring.”

P.S.: I was happy to hear from Mr. Rosenfeld that Walsh responded warmly to his letter and made clear that he is committed to make St. Vincent’s the patient-friendly hospital the community needs and deserves. Perhaps a useful dialogue has begun. Possibly regular meetings with community activists like Mr. Rosenfeld will help Walsh to find the answers he indicates he is looking for. I can testify to the fact that discussions between hospital officials and community people vitally concerned about the hospital’s service took place fairly regularly during the days the nuns were in charge and Sister Margaret Sweeney was president.

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