Hospital Volunteers: Unsung Heroes

We tend to think of hospital volunteers as elderly, gray-haired Pink Ladies who sit behind a reception desk in the lobby giving directions. Or we imagine young female Candy Stripers who staff the gift shop, selling flowers or teddy bears to patients’ families. Yes, those are volunteers, and we love them for caring and donating their time. But the modern hospital volunteer fills many other rewarding and sometimes surprising roles.

dsc_4336These days, candy striper outfits only see the light of day at Halloween parties, but most hospitals do require volunteers to wear uniforms that allow them to be easily identified. In spite of the lack of financial compensation, there are many ways that volunteering in a hospital can be rewarding. Men and women of all ages and walks of life are participating in this vital and generous form of volunteer work. They are vibrant, productive and priceless assets in the health care world.

The American Hospital Association’s website mentions a host of volunteer roles that many of us have never imagined. One hospital uses volunteer doulas, trained professionals who provide hands-on physical and psychological support during and just after birth: or who provide emotional and practical support during the postpartum period. That hospital estimates that 23 percent of its 1,500 births annually are attended by volunteer doulas.

And volunteers need not be involved directly with patients. In other hospitals and outpatient facilities, volunteer artists have painted calming scenes on ceiling tiles, providing creative art as a distraction for patients awaiting procedures, lying in hospital beds or undergoing other tests and therapies, as well as for families sitting in waiting rooms.

In another setting, volunteers staff a freestanding bookstore in the center of the hospital, which lends and re-sells new or gently used books and uses the proceeds to fund scholarships for the hospital’s teen storycatcher-1-3volunteers.

A meaningful project for writers is practiced in a hospital where volunteers obtain the life
stories of patients and share them with hospital staff, physicians, family and friends. The stories or poems capture the essence of the patients’ lives and allow patients to restore and/or enhance their relationships with loved ones.

Examples of many more hospital volunteer job descriptions are listed on the Sutter Health Memorial Medical Center website:
http://www.memorialmedicalcenter.org/community/Volunteer/Volunteerservices.html

Breach CoverIn Breach of Ethics, book three of the Aimee Machado mysteries, two senior volunteers, a widow and a widower, find satisfaction and purpose by volunteering in Aimee’s domain, the hospital library. The volunteers work their shifts on alternate days, but their common interest in the library soon brings them close together and promises to light up their golden years.

HOSPITAL PHOBIA: WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF?

When you anticipate a trip to the hospital, does your pulse quicken? Does your blood pressure rise? Does your throat go dry with dread? Then you’re probably hospital-phobic.DSC_4332 When I set out to write this post, I did an online search of the term hospital phobia and found 480,000 results. I knew the phobia was real, but I didn’t know it had a name. The medical term for this condition is a mouthful. It’s called nosocomephobia.

What is it that strikes fear in the heart? What causes that panicky sensation? If you’re about to be admitted as a patient, it may be the latest headline about deaths caused by medical errors. If you’re a visitor, it may be something as simple as the thought of all those nasty germs floating around. Ick!

Even worse, you just watched a TV show about a crazed shooter running amok in the corridors of a hospital.

So what are you to do? If you’re a potential patient, you need to be admitted. Your appendix is about to burst, and it isn’t going to heal itself. Or perhaps your loved-one is in the hospital, needing you there by his or her side. You have little choice but to face your fear and go into that terrifying place filled with germs and other potential threats.

Let me try to reassure you. I worked in an acute care hospital for seven years. My administrative position sent me to every floor and every department in the hospital complex. The worst danger I faced in all of that time was . . .

Actually, I’m having trouble thinking of even one example, but I can think of endless examples of how hospital administration and staff are involved in keeping patients and visitors safe.

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The welfare of patients involves a complex system of safety protocols designed to cover not just the care provided by physicians and nurses, but by every department and hospital worker. These include: emergency, pharmacy, radiology, pathology, dietary, infection control, and many more. Safety protocols are in place for every aspect of patient care.

But what about the safety of visitors? How are they being protected? From fire? From shooters? From other disasters? Fire and disaster drills are conducted regularly. Each department knows its procedures and assigned duties, and stands ready to assist. Hospital security protocols are in place, and personnel are constantly on alert for the very rare occasion when a patient or visitor becomes unruly or dangerous. As an added protection, more and more hospitals are requiring visitors to show photo ID and wear a visitor’s badge during their visit.

If you’re hospital-phobic, don’t give up or give in. There are treatments that can help. You can find a wealth of helpful information by doing a search using the key words hospital phobia.

Here is just one of the 480,000 links I found for information about this condition.

http://www.allaboutcounseling.com/library/nosocomephobia/

Book 3 Cover00020002In BREACH OF ETHICS, the third book in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, the issue of patient and visitor safety is on the mind of Timbergate Medical Center Administrator Jared Quinn. His concern for the wellbeing of patients and visitors results in a locked room murder mystery for Aimee and her team of amateur sleuths to solve.

The first three books in the AIMEE MACHADO MYSTERY series, published by Camel Press, are available in print and eBook formats from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, or by request from your local bookstore.

 

AMA? Bad Idea, Sherlock!

An online resource called Acronym Finder lists 123 meanings for AMA, and makes note that there are another 250 definitions in their Acronym Attic. Perhaps the most recognizable definitions are the American Music Awards, the Automobile Manufacturers Association, and the American Medical Association. Lesser known are the Academy of Magical Arts (sorry, Harry Potter), and the American Mule Association (nice site, lots of great mule photos).

Another lesser known definition of the acronym AMA is the term, Against Medical Advice. This definition applies specifically to the situation that arises when a patient decides to leave the hospital against the treating physician’s advice.

If the patient wants to go home, what’s the problem? It’s not a prison, after all. We see it on TV often enough. Last year, BBC’s Sherlock Holmes took off from his hospital room after being admitted with a gunshot wound to his chest. No one mentioned that he should have signed an AMA form before leaving. But maybe it’s different in London. We’re here in America. Besides, it was Benedict Cumberbatch, and he’s so loveable, we’d forgive him anything.

It turns out there are a number of potential problems related to patients who sign out AMA. Problems for the patient, the treating physician, and the hospital. For the patient who bolts before allowing a full evaluation of his or her care, the consequences can be dire. That nagging pain between the shoulder blades could develop several hours later into a full-blown and fatal heart attack. For the physician who signs out an angry and hostile patient without fully explaining the dangers in leaving without treatment, there may be a medical liability lawsuit on the horizon.

Doctors are cautioned to try every avenue to avoid the AMA discharge situation. If all else fails, the patient must be asked to sign the AMA form. Even then, there have been many cases where plaintiffs successfully sued hospitals and doctors following AMA discharges.

If you are the patient, it would be wise to consider your treating physician’s advice, even if you’re either angry enough or fearful enough to want to escape from your hospital room to the imagined safety of home and hearth. Patients who leave AMA have a four times higher rate of readmission within thirty days than other patients. Often they are in far worse shape than they were on that initial admission. So remember that exitichecked_out_300 (1)ng your hospital AMA could be the worst decision you ever make—in spite of what you’ve seen the hero do on your favorite TV show. (We know it wasn’t your idea, Sherlock. The writers made you do it.)

In CHECKED OUT, rodeo cowboy Cody O’Brien suffers the fatal consequences of leaving Timbergate Medical Center against medical advice. Published by Camel Press, this second book in the Aimee Machado Mystery Series was released October 1, 2015. It can be purchased online in paperback and as an eBook through Amazon.com via this link:  http://tinyurl.com/oglp496  Checked Out is also available online from Barnes and Noble, or by order at your local bookstore.

 

 

What is a Medical Staff?

119543789489042057caduceus_ryland_sanders_01.svg.thumbNot a question that comes up often in conversation, but when it does, many people will envision the caduceus, a staff associated with the messenger god, Hermes, in Greek mythology. With two wings at the top and entwined with two snakes, it is often mistakenly assumed to be a symbol of healing. In fact, Hermes, known as the  god of commerce, moved between the world of man and the world of gods, acting as a messenger and the link between mortals and the Olympians.

Sodownloadme may be familiar with the more correct, but lesser-known symbol, the Rod of Asclepius, which is entwined with a single serpent and wielded by the Greek god, Asclepius, a deity associated with healing and medicine. In spite of the symbols carried by these gods, there is a more down-to-earth meaning to the term medical staff.

When a health crisis occurs, most patients put their lives in the hands of the doctors in the nearest hospital. They do so in good faith, without knowing what goes on behind the scenes in order to protect them from unqualified medical practitioners.

If you’ve ever been a patient in a hospital, you were probably admitted by your primary care physician. And that’s where the hospital’s medical staff comes in.

Hospital-based television shows are unlikely to demonstrate the rigorous process your doctor went through to earn the privilege of admitting you to a specific hospital. It would not pass as entertainment.

The process began when your physician was required to provide proof of medical education and training as well as letters of reference from any former hospital where he or she possessed privileges. A credentialing committee then scrutinized the request for membership and privileges and verified the physician’s credentials. Once privileges were granted, the physician spent a period of time being monitored by a senior member of the medical staff. And that’s just the beginning.

To remain on the medical staff, your doctor must regularly fulfill continuing education requirements by attending pertinent educational programs. To retain treatment privileges, he or she must serve on medical staff committees and must attend mandatory medical staff department meetings. On top of that, all physicians who are granted medical staff membership must abide by the medical staff bylaws and are subject to having the quality of their patient care scrutinized by their peers.

The next time you’re in a hospital, either as a patient or a visitor, rest assured that hospital’s medical staff organization is working in the background. Let the television version of hospital life entertain you, but be grateful for real life, where the less entertaining work of upholding the quality of the medical staff goes on, ensuring that you and your loved ones are in good hands.

checked_out_300 (1)CHECKED OUT, book two of the Aimee Machado Mystery series, will be released October 1, 2015. Available for pre-order now, it introduces Aimee’s colleague Cleo Cominoli, Director of Medical Staff Services at Timbergate Medical Center. When Cleo becomes suspicious of a controversial and potentially dangerous woman surgeon on the medical staff, she enlists Aimee’s help and the excitement begins.