Normally I try to keep personal matters out of my published opinions, but my family endured an experience at the hospital yesterday that begs a quick (OK, not so quick) comment.
Background: My mom has cancer, and has already undergone her radiation and chemo treatments at a "highly-regarded teaching hospital" here in Cleveland. (I'm resisting the temptation to name names at present.) She has fought all this with the toughness and resolve that I would expect out of a woman who's been dealing with the hard-headedness of myself and the rest of my family for years; however, the tangled, desperately inefficient medical processes (and frankly inadequate care) that someone with a terminal illness has to deal with these days is absolutely shocking.
Now, mom had been discharged from the hospital this past Saturday evening after a stay of three days for what was diagnosed as pneumonia. Sunday afternoon we received a call from the nurse practitioner saying that mom would have to return to the hospital because gram-positive bacteria had grown in her blood cultures (from blood that was drawn last Thursday). The nurse didn't know if it was a blood pathogen or just a contaminant in the sample -- something that our family doctor says the lab should easily have known a full three days after the lab work began.
So we went back down to the hospital. There is no way to get admitted into this particular hospital except through the ER, and my mom, dad and I ended up spending a total of seven hours being an obstacle in an otherwise uncrowded hallway (right outside two open ER rooms, by the way) waiting to get her moved into a room upstairs. During this time, my mom missed sleep, two meals, her blood-thinning medication (cancer patients have to watch for blood clots) not to mention the simple things that are so important for psychological health (her weekend with the visiting grandkids, her human dignity etc.) She also had to have her IV redone because they hadn't flushed it properly -- nor had they given her the chest x-ray or second antibiotic that the admitting doctor had ordered. All of this for what might have been a contaminated blood sample.
I spoke with my mom this morning, and she's still not gotten the medications she needs, nor has she eaten anything or gotten any sleep (they came in at 3 AM to ask the same set of questions they have asked her every single one of the 15 times in the last three months she's been admitted).
From what I hear, this sort of "treatment" always happens to people, leaving them malnourished and physically/mentally stressed and therefore more susceptible to the kind of bugs/diseases that flourish in hospitals.
There's been talk about implementing lean principles into U.S. hospitals. However, considering the sheer amount of waste I witnessed in one seven-hour ER stint, I don't know if anything less than a total breakdown and rebuild is going to fix our criminally inept healthcare system.
(Quick side note -- my mom and dad have insurance through AARP but no prescription coverage, and as my dad is an independent contractor, he's getting bled dry through a succession of leech-like $50 shots, $200 antibiotics and $1800 15-minute ambulance rides.)
From the patient side, it seems as if the under-performing hospital in question was seriously overstaffed. Anytime anyone from MDs to maintenance had anyone else they could possibly talk to, conversation seemed to be spontaneously generated, and work stopped as a result. Unsupervised (and unmotivated) hospital workers are like carbon atoms floating around with free electrons extended, just waiting to bond with whatever atom comes floating along next.
The hospital wasn't busy at all -- it was a quiet Sunday night -- people just weren't working. Consider that we were told for three full hours that they were "cleaning the room" upstairs. Even when my mom was finally wheeled upstairs, the room ended up not having been cleaned and the cleaning crew, who supposedly had been cleaning for three hours, was nowhere to be found. But strangely enough, there was a clean, empty room waiting right next door the whole time.
How the staff did not know this, I have no idea, and shudder to think that these are the people responsible for keeping my mom alive and well.
Healthcare is the ultimate seller's market -- people would, and do, pay anything to get it, and that's sickening.