Family and Patient Empowerment

What struck me about the Lewis Blackman video was the palpable helplessness you could hear in Helen Haskell’s voice as she described what is was like to find herself in a situation in which she was stripped of her role as parent and primary care giver to her son and watch a health care team fail her at every step.  She entrusted her “lifework” to a group of medical professionals and witnessed their missteps that lead to the loss of her son while she was left powerless and frustrated with not being able to properly escalate the care that she intuitively felt he needed.

As mentioned in our discussion, this story is not a singular experience, but a reality of our flawed health care system.  What I find interesting is that hospitals have now undertaken the process of empowering patients and their families to speak up in situations similar to Helen’s.  The hospital in which I work allows for family members and patients to escalate their concerns should they feel they are not being adequately addressed by calling a Condition H. This emergency response system was designed to bring the unit charge nurse, primary nurse, medical ICU nurse, as well as the MD team for that particular service.  This initiative was rolled out in November of 2014, with much fanfare and staff in-services that were validated with stories such as Helen Haskell’s.  Patients upon admission to any inpatient unit in the hospital were instructed when to activate this response system, and soon the program was in full swing.  As the months passed by, and the code was improperly utilized due to lack of understanding on the part of patient’s families, it was disheartening to see the disengagement of MD staff with the subsequent frustration of the nurses.  My point in sharing all of this is my understanding that leadership and staff need to realize that implementation needs to be coupled with accountability to ensure that wonderful intentions such as empowering patients (Condition H) can come to fruition.  It simply is not enough to recognize a problem and implement a solution without designing a system and process to evaluate and embed these practices into hospital culture.

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