November 2006


For once I’m asking you for information…

This busy little bee has not had time to attend commission meetings or even watch the evening news, so I’m having to get all my information on the Wheel Tax possibility in Washington County second-hand. What have you all heard? Was anyone at last night’s meeting? What do we need to do to fight it?

I’ll be calling my commissioners as soon as I am armed with my best defense…INFORMATION! So fill me in, faithful readers…

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As the food finally begins to settle (which, by the way, is a much slower process when your abdomen is already filled with a 4 pound baby and various other space-taking fluids) I am about to begin the one tradition that many do not understand. Most who do not understand this tradition are of the male persuasion; but, I will admit, I used to be one who failed to comprehend the minds of those who practice one of the most sacred of Thanksgiving traditions…

hitting the day after Thanksgiving sales.

I shall spend the rest of my evening (except for when I pause to watch Grey’s Anatomy) looking through sale papers, picking out what I need to buy to satisfy that Christmas list, and planning my route. My niece is spending the night so that we can rise at roughly 3am, get ready, wait for my mother to arrive, and head to Johnson City to battle the hoards of others who, like us, are looking for a bargain. Easy Bake Ovens for $10! Magic Doodle Bears for $7! Laptops for $250! The bargains are irresistible!!!

We never fail to have a good time, as most who are crazy enough to get out a 5am to go shopping are the kind, spirited sort who will wait in that mile-long line with you and make conversation. There are those who get nasty when they notice that there’s only one Cabbage Patch Doll left of the shelf, but around here those are few and far between.

I firmly believe that we should be good stewards of that with which we have been blessed, and if that means getting up at three in the morning to save a few dollars, then so be it. All the more to donate to some worthy cause this Christmas. Not to mention all the fun us gals have shopping until we (literally) drop. After a breakfast at Cracker Barrel, I’m sure It’ll be home for a nice, long nap before decorating the house for Christmas.

Here’s hoping you’ve had a wonderful Thanksgiving and will spend tomorrow doing something that makes you smile…

This letter to the editor appeared in the Johnson City Press on Tuesday, November 20, 2006. My comments will follow.
-J

Over the last seven months my husband, a cancer patient, has been in Johnson City Medical Center a total of five times. Each time he was admitted through the Emergency Department. While we have no complaints about the doctors and nurses, we do have issues about the waiting time involved after the doctor decides you need to be admitted. In June, we were in the ER for 19 hours because there were no rooms available. On Oct. 2, we had to wait 12 hours for a room.

On these occasions, family members have gone to different floors of the hospital and seen empty rooms. They were told that there are not enough nurses to cover these rooms.

We have four schools within a 50-mile radius of Johnson City that have nursing programs – East Tennessee State University, Milligan College, Walters State Community College, and Northeast State Technical Community College. If money and working conditions were good I don’t think there would be a problem in getting good employees to staff these empty rooms so very sick people do not have to spend a day or even two days waiting for a room.

Mountain States Health Alliance has prevented Wellmont Health System from obtaining a certificate of need to build a new hospital in Johnson City. I think it is time that patients and families speak out and let our voice be heard about the shortage of nurses and aides and how the ones who are here are overworked.

Instead of beautification of the grounds at JCMC, give nurses more money and maybe they will stay here in Johnson City instead of seeking employment elsewhere.

Barbara Hughes Young
Johnson City

There is no question that there is a problem at the Medical Center. Time and again I hear complaints from those who have had some wretched experience but don’t know exactly what to do about it. As Mrs. Young stated in her letter, [most] times the problem is not with the quality of doctors and nurses; rather the problem lies elsewhere. Is the issue a lack of nurses as Mrs. Young asserts? Maybe. I have to say, however, that ultimate responsibility lies with the administration. When charged with running any sort of organization – be it a hospital, business, or government body – the buck stops at the top.

There are excellent doctors and nurses (and I’m sure other types of staff as well!) affiliated with MSHA. The sad fact is that I have pause going to these doctors for fear that I will end up in the Medical Center. I’m sure that’s not the kind of reputation that MSHA wants for its “star” hospital. I adore my general practitioner – who is MSHA affiliated – but I still hesitate to take my child to a certain pediatrician who is a MSHA doctor because of the problems we’ve had with the Med Center.

I’ll be interested to find out how my birthing experience goes at another MSHA hospital…is the problem MSHA-wide, or is the Med Center just overburdened? We shall see.

For the record, we will be pursuing the investigation that Mr. Herbert suggested in his emails to me (previously posted), and I hope that Mrs. Young will do the same. The administration can do nothing to fix the problem if they don’t know about it, so the least we can do is make sure that they are aware of the situations any of us as patients have faced.

-J

What a way to make an unpopular war even more unpopular…

I may need to wait a bit before writing about this, simply because I am still in such a state of shock. The Democrats, who were supposedly elected because we want out of Iraq, are now discussing reinstating the draft. Am I the only one who’s confused?

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said on Sunday that he will introduce legislation early next year that would propose reinstating the draft. His comments were: “There’s no question in my mind that this president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, especially on the flimsy evidence that was presented to the Congress, if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm’s way.” From that comment, it sounds like Rangel is advocating some twisted, spiteful plan to kill the children of Republicans, but we all know that statements can be taken out of context.

Rangel has unsuccessfully proposed conscription legislation in the past, and let’s hope that this time around is equally unsuccessful. Most believe that there’s not a chance that we are going to pass another draft, as 7 out of 10 Americans reportedly oppose such measures.

Incoming Speaker Pelosi has stated that there is virtually no support in Congress for the draft other than Rangel, and it does not appear on the preliminary agenda for next year. However Pelosi did say, “It’s not about a draft, it’s about shared sacrifice in this country,” and that Rangel is “a strong voice for social justice in our country” and his support for the draft was “a way to make a point.”

Somehow I had no idea that a very pregnant housewife from Jonesborough could cause such a stir, but wonders never cease. I received this email this morning and, after asking his permission, decided to post it in it’s entirety. I appreciate MSHA’s effort, although I do wonder why it took my big mouth to get the story to the media. The world may never know…
I have also posted the responses between Mr. Herbert and myself after this initial email. So, in the interest of fairness, here is MSHA’s response to my little blog.
-Jama

Hello. My name is Ed Herbert. I am the vice president of MSHA Communications and Marketing. I have numerous received notices of the critical comments on your blog over the last few weeks. Then today, I received an email you sent to some of our media friends. I would ask a favor of you. If and when you have an issue, have somewhat checked out the validity of the issue, please feel free to contact me and copy the media too if you would like.

We are very open and honest with the media in this region. They know they can call us anytime with any questions. We have a 24/7 media pager that they can use and we will call them back within 5 minutes or less. A number of my media contacts send me your email from today. In an effort to help them get a true picture of the problem we are facing, we put together a media conference which was attended by WJHL and two papers. We showed them all the work we have been doing on this matter. You will see the reports in the paper and on WJHL tonight at 6PM. No spinning as they were given access to visit the lower level. ONE (not two) heart case was postponed because it was the right thing to do for the patient. We were not hiding this situation from anyone but working on the solution. When the media called us today, we told them “yes we had this problem” and invited them to come see for themselves what we were doing. By the way, no one from the JC Press ever called about this situation before today. The comment about us stopping any media coverage is not true or as was written on your blog:

“As I told you yesterday, the press got wind of the story and was planning on breaking it sometime over the next couple of days. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be at the hospital have convinced the powers-that-be with the local media to sit on the story until there is “time to clean up the mess.” (UNTRUE) Interesting. One would have thought that three weeks would have been long enough, but what do I know?

As it currently stands – although information is scarce because someone at the hospital keeps leaking employee emails and has the administration a bit leery of telling anyone anything (UNTRUE, we sent an email just yesterday asking for team members help with certain procedures) – it seems that the OR will be shut down (IF NECESSARY) and surgeries will be performed in the adjacent Same-Day Surgery wing of the hospital (where many surgeries are done each day so what is the issue there?).”

If you wish to be an honest conservative ranting philosopher, fine, but at least check out your facts and to make sure you are not spreading rumors and lies. We put out emails to our team members asking for help. No one called any media to stop this story. Again, we work openly and honestly with our local media as they are a great assistance in getting much needed medical info out to the public.

The only issue I would take with your writings is that you appear to be questioning the integrity of our administration, that we are not being honest with people. Integrity, honesty in everything we do, is a core value here and one we treasure dearly at MSHA. I know that you do NOT know our President/CEO personally. Dennis Vonderfecht is a man of great integrity and vision. People from around this region that know Denis will tell you that. People from ETSU (like Dr. Paul Stanton, or Dr. Phil Bagnell, or Dr. Ron Franks, or Dr. Larry Calhoun). People you supported during the campaign like David Davis and others in local and state government. They will tell you that Dennis leads us by example in showing high integrity in his daily life.

We are a quality healthcare organization striving to be better, to always striving for a higher standard. We often ask people like you to help us see our misses so we can work to improve the process. We would love to have your eyes and comments in a constructive critical fashion to help us improve, not tear people down.

You are welcome to contact me at my office or replying to this email. I hope one day you can be the “conservative rantings of a happy (at least content) philosopher.” Take care and have a great day.

and my response:

Mr. Herbert,

I appreciate your email.

Because I’m not really considered “media,” – just a very pregnant housewife with a philosophy degree who enjoys writing – it is rather difficult to make contact with those in authority. Typically, I use my blog so that other people can do something about problems – people with more power and influence than myself. This is what most bloggers do: we get wind of a story, get it out there, and let the “real” media use their resources to investigate and sort out the details.

As for the information I received, it came from an anonymous source with knowledge of MSHA. I had no reason to doubt its validity, and I would never intentionally spread lies about anyone or any organization. Again, without media credentials, it is rather difficult to make contacts to verify information any further. I appreciate your willingness to work with me. I would be more than happy to alter my earlier post, adding the hospital’s response to my statements. Again, I had no reason to doubt the information I received, but I will certainly make the hospital’s official claims known.

I saw the WJHL report at 5:00 last night, although I was unable to see the 6:00 report. I was pleased with the way they handled the story, and I appreciate even more the hospital’s willingness to talk about the issue.

As for the integrity of Mountain States Health Alliance, I will be the first to admit that the organization has done wonderful things for this community. My general practitioner is affiliated with MSHA, as is my OB/GYN, and I’ll be giving birth to my baby at a MSHA hospital. I have, however, had some truly awful experiences at the Johnson City Medical Center, and my major complaint there is the refusal of hospital administration to admit that there is a problem.

We both know that money and politics are a major part of the health care industry, and MSHA is no exception. My problem there is that sometimes the money and the politics seem to take precedence over what is best for the patients.

I can’t say that I’ll continue writing about such controversial issues. With a baby on the way, I would prefer a much more peaceful existence than the one I experience when caught in the midst of political firestorms. If I do, however, happen upon information about MSHA in the future, I will be sure to contact you as a courtesy, and I appreciate your willingness to speak with me.

Jama Oliver

Mr. Herbert responds again:

Jama,

First, congratulations on the pending new arrival.

Second, thank you for your email. Reading it, I would be more than willing to hear about your experience at JCMC. Another team member, Tom Tull, is the Senior Director of Guest Services and I will be happy to take those bad experiences to Tom for review. That does not mean it will go into “file 13” or some dark void. I will get back to you with more information from MSHA on what we understood occurred and, more importantly, what we are going to do to improve the process so you and everyone else does not go through that again. That would be our goal.

If you, while sitting with the little one on the way, would please gather your thoughts on those experiences and shoot them to me, I will be happy to follow up on the matter. FYI, as a vice president, I am on the MSHA executive team, our CEO (Dennis) is my immediate supervisor so if there is something we need to look at within JCMC, hospital administration will work with me on this, not ignore it. I am part of MSHA administration and strongly promote our values (of integrity – honesty in everything we do; service – with caring and compassion; leadership – with creativity and compassion; and excellence – always pursuing a higher standard). I would not be able to do my job if I was asked to do it without our values as a guide.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your email!

Ed

I respond again:

Thank you!

I’ll get with my mother (who was both a recipient of some of these bad experiences and a witness when it involved other family members) and gather information on our complaints. I appreciate your willingness to work on this!

With your permission, (I saw that you left a copy of your original letter on my blog) I would like to post your original letter, my response, and a copy of this letter on my site. I thought this might be more effective than merely altering my earlier post.

Thanks again,
Jama

And Mr. Herbert again:

Permission is granted and thank you for asking. As far as the complaint issue, if your mother is receptive to discussing the matter, I would just need her permission (HIPPA issue) and her name so that I can get with Tom Tull. Then we will get going on the issues at hand. I hope we have that opportunity to hear from her and help us improve for the next patient.

Have a great day.

Ed

Me again:

I’ll get your response up on my site as soon as I finish this email.

The most bothersome issues involve two different family members – my mother and my niece – on two different occasions (although with my mother, there were a couple of issues arising from one hospital stay!). There have been other minor mishaps, such as my grandmother being one of those patients I mentioned on my blog who laid in the hallway in the ER because there wasn’t room for her (this has been several years ago, as she passed away in 2000). I was with both my mother and my niece when the incidents occurred, and those experiences – especially the one involving my mother – are what soured me on JCMC. I’ll speak with my mother about allowing the hospital to look into the issues, and I appreciate your willingness to work on it.

-Jama

This communication, I believe speaks well of Mr. Herbert and, by default, MSHA. Although, Mr. Herbert is VP of Communications so one would assume that he would be good at communicating.

On a related issue, I have been reading about bloggers running into problems such as the one I’ve faced over the last couple of days (angry hospital reps, newspapers, etc.), and this poses an interesting problem: Exactly what responsibility does an individual posting opinions and information on the internet as a hobby have to those about whom he/she writes? I would certainly NEVER knowingly post lies or misinformation, but how, as a non-media member of the “media” (if you know what I mean) do I get access to those who can verify information? As we get used to living in this technological age, and realize that what we say can be and is accessed by countless individuals, how should we alter our speech? Is blogging different than talking with your friends or speaking on a street corner to passers-by? I’m not sure how much I enjoy being the one testing the waters…

-Jama

Gee, I wonder how they got the story?

At 11:22 this morning tricities.com posted the following story which was prompted by an anonymous tip.

I’m glad there’s at least one news agency in this area with some guts!

And the scandal grows…

The original “Gnat Discovery” at the Johnson City Medical Center occurred on October 24 (that would be more than three weeks ago). It was on that day that two open heart surgeries had to be cancelled because of the gnat infestation.

Here we are on November 15 and the gnats are still there. Apparently, some of these gnats flew out of drums of hazardous waste (which would indicate that these are super-gnats, like the Incredible Hulk of the gnat world…yikes).

As I told you yesterday, the press got wind of the story and was planning on breaking it sometime over the next couple of days. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be at the hospital have convinced the powers-that-be with the local media to sit on the story until there is “time to clean up the mess.” Interesting. One would have thought that three weeks would have been long enough, but what do I know?

As it currently stands – although information is scarce because someone at the hospital keeps leaking employee emails and has the administration a bit leery of telling anyone anything – it seems that the OR will be shut down and surgeries will be performed in the adjacent Same-Day Surgery wing of the hospital.

Whether or not this is a common problem (headline: “Gnats Infest Hospitals Across the Country!”), doesn’t the public have a right to know? If the hospital closest to my home is having issues with bio-hazardous gnats, should that really be kept from me? It is really bothersome that the Press is being silenced on an issue that affects so many. Not to mention the fact that if a well-researched, open-book sort of story was distributed, wouldn’t we all be better off (i.e., the public would know what’s going on, but the hospital would have a chance to explain itself?) Isn’t this what the media is for?

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