Finding the heart of the hospital
I’ve been meaning to write about my tour of the local hospital for a while. Today seems like a good day to start as I’ve just spent the afternoon with one of the Enloe Medical centre chief volunteers, a Chico resident who, after moving to the States from South Africa, has devoted the last seventeen years of her life to building the volunteer programme at the hospital. We’d met at the front desk; she was greeting people as they came in and directing them to where they wanted to go, I was still ambling around the main foyer marvelling at how the evolving shades of green wall colour did indeed give the impression of a building in tune with nature.
The tour I’d been taken on that morning had focused on the shell of Enloe, the building itself. Much of the interior is fairly new and focuses on creating a calm atmosphere for patients. I was impressed by the attention to detail and the emphasis on a more holistic approach to wellbeing.
Mediation rooms are a frequent occurrence as you walk the corridors. Wellbeing of staff is also cared for with complimentary healthy meals provided at all times (including a chef who makes omelettes to order every morning in the doctors’ lounge) and spacious rest spaces.
Enloe is a ‘non-profit’ facility meaning it is funded by donors. Any excess they make is put back into the community. They have also been granted ‘Planetree’ status which means they put efforts into and have reached a certain standard in providing patient-centred care. The Planetree organisation was a new find for me; they are a non-profit body that work with healthcare facilities around the world in achieving more patient-focused care. A word from their founder:
“ What patients want is not rocket science, which is really unfortunate because if it were rocket science, we would be doing it. We are great at rocket science. We love rocket science. What we’re not good at are the things that are so simple and basic that we overlook them”- Laura Gilpin
It’s a message that I’ve heard from quite a few. Whilst life-saving care here can be efficient and impressive, it is often the more longer term and pastoral care that is under prioritised. On that note, I was happy to observe that the hospital were conscious of this, however I really wanted to understand what this actually meant on the ground.
Luckily the chief volunteer was very happy to fill me in. She explained that the programme had inspired further training amongst all staff and focused on an increase in awareness of the patient’s needs at all times. She used the example of the cleaning staff being encouraged to talk to a patient on entering a room to work and report back any problems they picked up. It’s impossible to know exactly how this translates to real life but as far as she was concerned, it had made a huge difference and had engaged everyone who worked at Enloe.
After some mixed and sometimes difficult conversations over the past few days, it was refreshing to meet with someone who exuded huge pride at the services available and the role she had played. Whilst she now found it difficult to remember the system in South Africa, she said she was aware of how lucky she was to be in the States. Having been a business owner, she and her husband had paid for a private healthcare policy. Before joining the Medicare scheme at the age of 65, the private insurance had radically increased in price, making things a little more difficult. However, she still believed in what she was paying for, she said, and was glad to do it.
She herself had started a new programme in the hospital that allowed volunteers to spend time with patients as companions. This really interested me as it seemed to go to the heart of what I was trying to find, how were the people requiring healthcare receiving emotional support during a time of vulnerability. Her stories of sitting with dying patients and the elderly who were lonely as their memories faded, brought a lump to my throat and tears to her eyes. She couldn’t believe her luck in having such an opportunity, she said, and was proud to report that it was now one of the most popular schemes.
I couldn’t help but think of times when I had had similar experiences as a doctor. Sadly, though, few of these experiences had provided the time I would have liked to spend and I could see that there would be huge value in having someone there who did not have the restrictions of being needed in ten other places simultaneously.
I was impressed and inspired at finding someone so passionate about her work and so grateful for what she had received in her life here. I asked her if this work continued into the community, the area I really wanted to focus on, and she said she really didn’t know.
In order to try and find out, I will spend a day with the home health team in the coming week and truly hope I might find a similar story there…