The hospital where you go to receive treatment can mean the difference between life and death.
I didn’t realize that until R called me one morning last week at 4:30 a.m., and I rushed him to the nearest medical facility. It’s located only a few miles away, and because he seemed to have suffered a stroke, time was of the essence. I’d read there was something positive doctors could do if people got there quickly in these circumstances, but I didn’t know what. I only knew I wanted them to help him.
Being fairly new to the area, I didn’t realize I might have made a deadly mistake. R might still have to pay for our visit to the Lehigh Regional Medical Center.
Here’s the letter I wrote the day after I took him home. It’s going in the mail today. I’m posting it on the blog. I may attempt to get media interested, though it seems everyone already knows what I found out during the thirty-five hours or so we spent there. Specific complaints were italicized for emphasis.
April 24, 2016
To Person Who Runs This Hospital:
I brought someone to the ER entrance at around 5 a.m. April 20. I have never been to a hospital with a more inept, incompetent, inconsiderate staff.
Here is a list of my complaints, augmented by what the patient remembers. I have already left instructions with my friends never to send me to your facility in case of an emergency, even though it’s the most convenient and Fort Myers is a long drive away. The patient feels the same way.
Furthermore, the patient’s brother and his wife, who have lived in the area a long time, are friends with a local nurse, who advised us to remove the patient from your facility asap. Since it’s become known R was at your facility for treatment, everyone, without fail, was appalled and advised never to visit you again. That’s how little the community thinks of your skills.
It would do you good to remember you serve the public and see people at their most vulnerable. Patients expect and should receive the highest level of care possible. You fell far short of the mark.
[R’s name inserted here as patient, mine as person filing complaint]
In the ER
- R called me at 4:30 a.m., requesting assistance. I drove to his house and found him exhibiting symptoms of a stroke: slurred speech, trouble walking and coordinating hand movements. R is 63, has high blood pressure for which he takes no medicine, and smokes. He was mobile enough for me to get him to the car and drive to the ER. I parked in front of the entrance. R said he could walk in. Good thing, because I saw no wheelchair nearby and no one but intake behind a wall of glass inside. While I acknowledge it would have taken only moments (hopefully!) to get a wheelchair out to him, there was absolutely no sense of urgency at all. It felt like any standard entrance to a hospital.
- Instead of immediately whisking R to the ER, they passed a form to me to fill out. Shouldn’t that have been the other way around? Whisk first, pass form second!
- Before joining R in the ER, I went out to move my car, which was blocking the entrance. No one asked me to do it, and I don’t remember seeing signs that said “Don’t park here.” What if I had been as incompetent as your staff or so worried about my friend I didn’t remember to move it? What if an ambulance had arrived while I was elsewhere, and my car had still been parked there?
- By the time I was shown back to the ER, they’d removed his shirt and hooked him up to a machine via sensors and wires. A hospital gown had been put on him, over his shorts and underwear. He was still wearing his shoes. Someone was asking him mental alertness questions, and he was answering correctly, albeit slowly. The rest of the ER was dark; I got the feeling only R was there at that time. He was taken for a chest X-ray and CT scan. Kudos to this tech; she was professional, spoke quietly, and got it done efficiently. Back in #9 in the ER, R asked for water and someone brought him some. Beeps and alarms from his machine and others in the area were ignored. At one point, I had to go out to the nurse’s station, where about five people were gathered, chatting and laughing loudly, to ask them if they were going to check out the alarm on R’s machine.
- I was with R in the ER for about five hours before he was moved upstairs. During that time, there was a lot of loud talking from the station and some activity in the hall, but other than someone taking his blood—twice!—no one much did anything or came to talk to me about what was happening. When R had to pee, I helped him do it. When he threw up, I helped him sit up and held the bag. Your staff was yakking. Leaving a patient in the hands of a visitor who might be too worried or freaked out to attend to the patient should be an absolute no-no, especially when that patient presents with stroke symptoms and told you he’d had trouble swallowing earlier. Also: do you assume people not trained or paid to do so should handle body fluids of someone in an ER? WTF, people. We live in dangerous times. NEVER ASSUME.
- Earlier, someone had asked for a urine sample. After R peed, I took it out to the station. They said to leave it on the tray in #9. Despite me bugging them about it twice, that piss sat there the rest of the time we were in the ER. No one collected it, therefore no tests were run on it.
- A doctor made a brief appearance. I only knew he was a doctor because he was wearing a white coat. Other people who flitted in and out didn’t tell me what their function was. Takes two seconds. “I’m Nurse Whatever.” That’s it. That’s all that’s necessary. The doctor advised me to “stay there.” Why? Because I was doing the job the staff should have been doing? Observing and caring for the patient??
- Someone mentioned R being seen by a neurologist. Was that the doctor in the white coat? The one who asked a few questions, then vanished, never to be seen again?
- A different doctor showed up and checked his ears. She noted “a bad infection and several holes” in his left eardrum that “suggested” TB might be involved. Suddenly, we’re talking isolation, masks and gowns, and a two-day TB test. Uh, he’d just had a stroke. It’s even possible he had a second stroke while we waited; he’d started talking normally, then crashed again, and again, I had to tell the staff what was going on.
- Note #1: R was unaware of any ear infection. His chest X-ray was clear, he was not coughing, and he has never coughed blood. “Ruling something out” is not a good enough reason to pump someone full of antibiotics while ignoring the reason he was there: to be treated for stroke.
- Note #2: Gregory House said “Everyone lies,” but to totally discount what a patient says is stupid and irresponsible. The patient is the first place you go to for information. Take it with a grain of salt but never ignore it.
- Note #3: A sign posted in the ER said one visitor at a time. At one point, both R’s brother and I attended him, and later, when the ER started filling up, I noticed whole families trotting past. I think I even saw a kid at one point. Exposing the public to possible infectious disease is short-sighted and irresponsible. There’s a waiting room; why wasn’t it being used?
- Note #4: Staff kept asking R to move up the gurney (his feet were dangling). Uh, he’d had a stroke! They knew he couldn’t move! They should have assisted when they needed him to move.
- Note #5: They took him to the imaging trailer for an MRI and kept nagging him to remain still. Again: this is a patient! He’s sick. If he can’t stop twitching, you don’t berate him for it. Sedating him would have been better, don’t you think?
- Note #6 Staff told R he was dehydrated yet didn’t make fresh water readily available, nor did they hook up an IV to assure he was getting enough fluids. Unacceptable!
- Up in Room 204, Nurse Huey showed up. Professional attitude but talked to R like he was a moron and ended every sentence with “okay.” “If you need to get up, you will call me, okay?” “If you need attention of any kind, you will press this button, okay?” He repeated the information about the camera being turned on and off several times. If you think a patient doesn’t understand what you’re saying, that’s an indication he should not be left alone and/or the camera should be on to monitor them.
- They insisted on treating R as if he had TB, so he was placed in isolation. There was no sign on or over the door to indicate a mask had to be worn at all times. Bins hung on the door, but unless you poked around in them, you wouldn’t know what was in them. R’s brother walked right by the nurse’s station to R’s room and would have entered without a mask if I hadn’t called and warned him first. You guys have lousy security. (Two days later, the TB tests on his arms are negative.)
- A patient who was having trouble sitting up and standing was not given a urinal or vomit basin/bag, nor was he catheterized. This absolutely floored me. It’s common sense, isn’t it? He couldn’t reach the call button, so when he had to pee, he did it on himself and the floor. When he vomited, it landed on him and the floor. No one noticed for a while, and it wasn’t properly cleaned up until hours later. This is not only humiliating for the patient, it’s disgusting he was left in such a state.
- During intake, Huey said he would bring R a nicotine patch; that never showed up. A urinal and vomit basin were never given to him, even though I asked for them. Huey said someone would talk to R about his difficulty in swallowing; they never showed up. He saw no doctor after being moved to Isolation.
- R was given food without being asked about dietary restrictions. Lucky for you he’s a meat-eating coffee drinker; I would have had a fit, being a vegetarian who drinks water. Given his previous difficulty in swallowing, he should have been observed while eating in case he started choking. What the hell is wrong with your staff?
- R was supposed to be changed into a gown with a pocket for his sensors. That never happened. In fact, he was left in his filthy street clothes the two days he was there. Appalling! His shorts were stained with piss and even then, they didn’t remove them.
- No one told him what was happening or why. Patients are not meat. You do not treat them like animals. Even if you think they don’t understand what you’re saying, you damn well better say it. R was physically impaired for a short time, but mentally, he was alert and functioning. Your staff made erroneous assumptions that could have jeopardized his health.
- The bathroom doorway was partially blocked by a large machine that, I think, filtered the air. It had sharp corners. A large silver tube, like that coming off a clothes dryer, attached that machine to a hole in the bathroom ceiling, making full access to the toilet difficult. I used to work in Quality Control. Osha would never have signed off on that (blocked doorway, sharp corners that could harm a patient who fell against it), yet I was told this setup was okayed by your quality controllers. I took pictures.
R signed an AMA form and left. He didn’t feel he’d been helped at all. He has told all his friends never to send him to your facility. He’d rather travel forty minutes to Fort Myers for treatment.
Maybe you’re outstanding when someone is having a heart attack, but judging by R’s two-day stay, I wouldn’t trust you to do anything more than pop on a Band-Aid. Rumor has it a new hospital is being built in Lehigh. We can’t wait.
Several days later, I’m still pissed as hell over how they treated R. As far as I could tell, he didn’t receive whatever treatment is supposed to be administered to stroke victims. They focused on tests, some of them unnecessary, and the TB he did not have. I’ve been told the facility has changed hands several times during the last several years, and the latest buyer is out in California: Prime Health Care Services.
Do yourself a favor: investigate now what hospital you will use in the event of an emergency. Assure yourself you or your loved one will get the care they deserve instead of being treated like R was.
R is resting at home. He’s attempting to make an appointment with one of two doctors who specializes in strokes. His speech is pretty much back to normal, but he says he still feels a little off-balance. He takes things slowly and avoids unnecessary travel. He is making major lifestyle changes: stopping smoking, taking his BP meds, and swallowing an aspirin every night. He still thinks leaving that place was the right decision.
He is debating whether or not to pay the bills when they come in but leaning toward not doing it. I can’t say I blame him after what I witnessed there.