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April 25, 2013

The importance of speaking up ...

Cooperstown Crier

---- — Over the years we have come to understand that, in writing a weekly column, it is not possible to always please everyone. And such was the case with our column that ran at the end of March in which we wrote about our experience as in inpatient following a total hip replacement.

In fact, the week following the column there was a letter to the editor that seemed to decry what we had done. The letter read: “I am writing in response to a recent column attacking Bassett Hospital. What a shame someone felt the need to do so. My mom recently had to stay in the hospital and we couldn’t have been treated better. The nurses were patient, kind and attentive to her and respected every member of our family. The doctors spent time answering all our questions and treating our entire family with courtesy. The hard-working people at Bassett, and other health care facilities, deserve our respect and support and they will ALWAYS have mine.”

And we definitely think it was good that the writer choose to share what was a very positive experience.

Nonetheless, we were somewhat taken aback by this letter as, not only do we respect and support the staff at Bassett, we have long been known for our support of the institution itself. We feel, in spite of what others say, it is the major economic force in our community without which the community would be in very bad shape and not just in terms of medical care. However, this support of Bassett does not mean that we will not speak up when we think there are areas in which there is room for improvement. Our hope is always that by bringing those needs for improvement to the attention of someone who is in a position to do something about them, improvement will at least be considered. It is, we think, input from patients and their families that provides the hospital the feedback necessary to assess when they are serving their patients well and when they are not.

For example, as a result of the column we have had a meeting with the heads of three departments responsible for our care. And we found it to be a very informative and productive meeting. There was general agreement that our care did not meet Bassett’s expectations, leading to a number of steps designed to correct identified problems including the hiring of additional patient care assistants (nurse’s aides) for the surgical floor, the inception of a pilot program to staff the inpatient surgical floor with a part-time assistant to help patients get the walking needed for their recovery and better communication so that the expectations outlined for patients in the joint replacement class will be met during the patient’s hospital stay.

Additionally, the handouts distributed in the joint replacement class are being reviewed to make certain it is clear that they are only guidelines and that every patient is unique and may require changes to the outlined plan. We also learned that plans are in the works for the hospital’s food service with the goal of improving food choices for individual patients. A note was also made that the procedures in place for securing additional help when the floors are short of staff are being reviewed in order to make certain those procedures are working in the best interests of both patients and staff. All in all, we were most pleased with the discussion of issues and the proposed remedies for the problems we had encountered.

Thus, we do feel that it is very important that patients speak up regarding experiences at Bassett. Positive comments help Bassett to know what they are doing well. Negative comments help them to understand where there might be need for improvement. And, we hasten to add, we do not feel it is necessary to write a newspaper column to share both positive and negative comments. In fact, Bassett has an extensive system in place to deal with issues raised by patients. And we would encourage everyone who has had an experience, good or bad, which they wish to share with Bassett to do it so in order that it can become part of the ongoing evaluation of both inpatient and outpatient procedure. And, to make certain that we fully understood the Patient Representative Services at Bassett we called the head of the department for an explanation of the best way for a patient to share a comment.

We learned that the Patient Representative Services can be accessed in three ways. The first is to go to the Bassett Healthcare website and click on the “contact us” link and follow the directions. The second way to make contact is to call 547-3912 or 1-800-227-7388 and ask for the Patient Representative Services. And finally, it is possible to make contact by writing a letter and sending it to Patient Representative Services, Bassett Healthcare, 1 Atwell Road, Cooperstown, New York, 13326.

We understand there is a goal to reply to all patients within seven days although, depending on the issue, it might take longer. However, everyone who contacts the Patient Representative Services should receive a reply within 30 days. If for some reason, there has been no reply within that time frame, we would suggest a follow up inquiry to see why no response has been received.

We also learned that while there is undoubtedly only one kind of compliment, there are two kinds of complaints. The first is an actual complaint and deals with an issue that is not medical in nature, such as the scrambled eggs were cold or the plastic cup in which tea was served tasted like coffee. The second, which concerns a medical issue such as not getting pain medication when needed, is actually called a grievance. And, if we understand it correctly, the responses to these two types of issues are different so one patient may receive a telephone call and another patient a letter. We would also add that if as a patient you are not happy with the response received, ask again for further explanation or even a meeting with the person in charge of the situation. It is in the best interest of all concerned that all parties are satisfied with the outcome of any compliant or grievance.

And finally, we hasten to point out that we were most pleased with the outcome of our sharing our concerns with Bassett. Our hope would be that as a result of our efforts, what happened to us will be less likely to happen to someone else. We also would hope that no one will think that our pointing out concerns about inpatient care means that we are not supportive of Bassett Healthcare. In fact, according to the letter we received following our meeting, we were told we are “... an advocate for Bassett.” And we fully intend to remain so.

PLEASE NOTE: Comments regarding this column may be made by mail at 105 Pioneer Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326, by telephone at 607-547-8124 or by e-mail at