Comity in Patient Safety Advocacy
As a patient safety advocate, I have dealt with a lot of discomfort. My early encounters/discussions with organizations and others about healthcare harm were frustrating and enraging at times. Others in the room didn’t know how to take me or even what the heck I was doing in their special inner sanctum. I was often dissed and interrupted rudely, but I refused to walk away. The reason for my work and the source of my passion was my father’s preventable death from an infection he caught in the Hospital. I had heard enough of Dad’s doctors’ lame excuses and I knew that half of what they said was either to cover up their hospitals carelessness or outright lies. The biggest lie of all was when they said “These things happen and there isn’t much they can do about it”
When I set out, my attitude wasn’t great. I told others that my father’s hospital would regret what they did. I was hell bent and I was going after my perceived enemy.
My first important foray was helping my local Maine representative write a legislative proposal for the prevention of MRSA. It was time consuming extremely detailed work. I was driven and I loved it. My State legislator recommended asking my old union, Maine State Nurses Association, to lobby my bill. I did that. I attended a meeting of their leadership and shared Dad’s story. I asked for their support. They granted it. The media was there and we all answered questions about why I was doing this.
Without the help of those nurses, I’m not sure where that legislation would have gone. With their help, we got a law passed to screen hospital patients for MRSA. My representative and the nurses taught me the law making process, which I was clueless about. Some of the nurses in that leadership group were nurses from my father’s hospital. That was extremely confusing and uncomfortable for me and for them too. It muddied my attitude toward the offending hospital. A few of them would not walk with me at the State House and lobby beside me because they weren’t sure if they wanted to support my proposal or not. It was hard to deal with at that time, but it also made me begin to dissect my thinking and anger.
I have become friends with many of the nurses from my father’s hospital. They now support my work and my goals. I have helped them, the same as they have helped me. I attend the annual MSNA conference and bring the “patient’s voice”. My voice is different, because this patient is also a nurse. But, the difference is that I am a liberated retired nurse and I can use my voice in ways and in places that an employed nurse cannot. It could jeopardize their livelihood if they spilled their guts publicly. When the nurses expressed their concern about a corporate dialysis company coming in to take over my local clinics, I created a campaign to try and stop the purchase. I was convinced that it was not good for our community, the nurses or the dialysis patients it would affect. That corporation was known for hiring cheaper staff, having poor RN to patient ratios, and being a blatantly PROFITS over PATIENTS organization. The corporate business attitude spills out in a lot of destructive and dangerous ways. That purchase went through regardless of our campaign, and it affected a number of my nurse colleagues. It’s my understanding that all of those MSNA dialysis nurses who worked in my local dialysis clinics, left their specialty work and their new corporate employer within the first year under the new ownership.
At last year’s annual MSNA meeting, I gave a passionate comment about how important it is for them to DEMAND safe staffing levels, and NOW is the time. I told them I am getting old and I want safe staffing levels when I am a patient in the future. I encouraged them to go after mandated nurse to patient ratios at the State and National levels. I worked for decades as an RN in places that understaffed and endangered patients. I don’t see the point of continuing to endure those kinds of working conditions and patient safety threats.
I am still angry about my Dad’s death, and that he died because of a hospital acquired infection. But, I no longer let the anger consume me and control my work. I don’t let it influence who I partner with to get the work done. The work is about making healthcare safer and that means we have to work with people who are inside the healthcare system and people who regulate it. Exactly how far would I get if I was angry all the time, raging, yelling and interrupting conversations. How many conferences meetings, councils, committees and summits would welcome me at if I didn’t LISTEN as well as SPEAK? How much would anyone pay attention to me at all if I didn’t use my sense of humor and come across as a caring human being? How can I get respect if I don’t give it? If I alienate the very people who can make necessary changes and put them into practice, how far would I get?
I have learned to never prejudge entire groups of people or entire facilities because they are associated with the harm that my father and so many others have suffered.
When I started out I had two goals. They were to stop MRSA infections in Hospitals, and to make sure no one else would ever suffer and die because of preventable harm, like my father did.
Today, 9 years later, I wouldn’t be one step closer to my goals if I had allowed my anger to control my work.
See more of Kathy Day's blog posts at her blog site, McCleary MRSA Prevention.