Faith and Religion: Separation of Church and Healthcare?

Mercy Medical Center's new campus in Merced, CA

     The contents of the following article are mostly my own personal opinions, save for where I state that an event occurred, and can readily provide factual evidence of that event so as to lend substance to the afore-mentioned opinions. I am writing this article because my family, friends and I have been personally and professionally slighted by the entity which I will be discussing. Although this is the case, I will still endeavour to present my arguments in as objective a manner as I am able to, for the benefit of informing you, my fine young readers…

     In May of 2010, Mercy Medical Center in Merced, California relocated itself to a brand new facility; an eight-floor building, complete with state-of-the-art equipment, increased emergency and in-patient capacity and even a fully functional helipad area. For months prior to it’s opening, this facility was touted throughout the area as being the “best thing since sliced bread.” (My words, as an analogous idea.) I will personally admit that this facility is a very impressive one, and its potential (by virtue of its design and equipment) for service to the area is outstanding. This hospital is managed by Catholic Healthcare West, a non-profit benefit corporation headquartered in San Francisco, California. Prior to the relocation of Mercy Medical Center, the hospital was located in a building owned by the County of Merced, on the southern end of the city. The reasons given for the relocation included concerns over service capacity, an inability to retrofit the existing building for earthquake safety and overall improvement of service to the residents of Merced County. It is in respect to this last item that concerns remain, even after the relocation.

     At this point, I would like to relay to you, my fine young readers, a little sidebar story. Over the past year or so, I have become close friends with the family downstairs from my humble apartment abode. They are some of the nicest people one could ever meet. My neighbor has three sisters (also fantastic people), one of which has two young daughters. (With me so far?) The youngest one, who is almost four years old but quite small for her age, was attacked by a Pit Bull last Tuesday at a local dog park. According to her mother, the attack resulted in significant injuries to the right-side temple area of her head, which tore the skin open and exposed the superficial temporal artery, missing the vessel itself by one millimeter. The child also has a puncture wound to her right lower jaw, and tearing of / through the right earlobe.

     (Again, the following events were recounted to me by the girl’s mother.) When this attack occurred, her parents immediately called for an ambulance, which transported the girl to the emergency room at Mercy. Upon arrival at the hospital, the girl and her parents were placed out in the department’s outer “waiting room,” where they proceeded to wait for over two hours before the girl was finally seen by a physician, according to her mother. Once inside the room, the physician rendering treatment decided to use this as a teaching situation (MMC Merced is after all, a teaching hospital!) for an intern. It was at this point that the grandmother (who had arrived during some point in these events) and the mother decided that the care the girl was receiving was not in line with the severity of the injury, removed her from the Mercy Medical Center emergency room, and drove her approximately 45 miles south to Children’s Hospital of Central California. Within 15 minutes of arrival at CHCC, the girl was being cared for by emergency staff.

     (The following section is factual, and can be readily corroborated by e-mails and screen captures.) Now, I have personally gotten a close-up look at the aftermath of the injuries to this little girl’s face, so I can vouch for their nature and severity. When I was told of this, I immediately posted my concerns to the CHW page on Facebook. Here’s what was written, presented for your perusal in its entirety:

     “ALERT – I am bringing this HERE, and will bulldog this issue, even if I have to go to the AMA and the U.S. Surgeon General: CHW Hospital Mercy Medical Center in Merced made a 2 and 1/2 year-old dog attack victim, brought via ambulance to ER, wait over 2 hours in the WAITING ROOM, with severe lacerations to her head, one of which missed the superficial temporal artery by 1mm! HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN!?” “This happened yesterday afternoon. The victim was attacked by a Pit Bull at a local dog park. She was eventually taken by family to CHCC in Madera County, where PROPER care was rendered within MINUTES of their arrival.

CHW JUST BUILT this new facility in our city, yet juvenile cases such as this continue to be mishandled. WHY?”

     Two days later, a reply was posted from whoever runs the page, stating the following:

     “We appreciate your bringing this to our attention, John. This is absolutely not the experience any person should have when seeking care. We are in contact with the president and the chief medical officer of the hospital and will take appropriate steps to help ensure this does not happen again.”

     This was followed immediately by another post, which read:

     “If you would like to speak with someone directly to provide us with more information, please send your contact information to contactus(at)chw.edu.”

     I passed this information along to the girl’s family, and replied in the thread that I would do so. Then, I checked back a few hours later. The two posts above had been removed, and the following had been posted in their place:

     “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, John. We want to assure you that we are committed to the highest standards of care and treatment. Please send us your contact information at contactus(at)chw.edu so we can gather more information about this matter.”

     I immediately posted a reply, inquiring why the original post had been redacted. I also re-posted their original reply to me, in a posting under MY name so that it was clear to everyone reading this exchange what had been redacted. CHW then removed my re-post of their original comment, and posted this in response:

     “Thank you, John. Your care and attention to your friends’ well being is appreciated. We hope you agree that it is in everyone’s best interest to have the family and our caregivers engage in a conversation to better understand the facts. Our original post was removed after it became clear that this was a complaint you were lodging not on behalf of yourself (and so weren’t speaking from direct experience), but on behalf of a friend. It is always our first priority to provide quality, timely care. We are looking forward to connecting your friends with our caregivers for an open conversation.”

     I’ll wrap up the section at this point, but the idea is now clear; CHW was going to take this seriously, but when they determined that this was a second-hand complaint, they down-graded it. When I re-posted their original text, they censored it, yet spoke of “open conversation.”

     Inordinately long waits in the MMC emergency waiting room are no new thing. In 2008, my son came down with pneumonia. He and his wife went to the emergency room, arriving there around 6:00 P.M. I know this because they called me four hours before I got off from work that evening, telling me that they had just arrived there. When I shifted off, I drove past the hospital on my way home. I found them walking down the street towards our complex, only yards away from the hospital parking lot. I asked my son what the doctor had said, however he replied that they had not even seen a triage nurse. This was at 10:05 P.M. I immediately went back down to the hospital with them, and asked the desk nurse why they had been waiting for over four hours to be seen. Upon checking her computer screen, the nurse informed me that my son had only been there for a little over two hours. (In all actuality, they waited almost two hours before inputting his info into the computer!) I immediately took my son 35 miles down to Madera Community, where he was seen and prescribed antibiotics within an hour.

     In 2009, my daughter-in-law was seen at the MMC emergency room for abdominal pain during the early stages of a pregnancy. After waiting over three hours in a chair in the hall, she was finally taken to a room and examined. Emergency room staff completely missed the fact that she was having a miscarriage.

     For an organization that has “showing compassion” in their stated aims, Catholic Healthcare West, an entity associated with the Catholic church, does not appear to be doing such a wonderful job at it. Fostering “open conversation” is also problematic, especially when CHW engages in censorship. Now, I do understand that they are perfectly entitled to post and remove anything they wish in their spaces on the internet, however it still does not speak well for their “modus operandi.”

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3 comments on “Faith and Religion: Separation of Church and Healthcare?

  1. Queen Vicki says:

    Correction: The triage crew missed that I was having a miscarriage, even though I was in pain and bleeding. Once I got back there and they made me wait for what felt like an eternity, they gave me an ultrasound. When the emergency room doctor came in, he misdiagnosed me with bicornis bicollis, also known as having a bicornuate uterus, and proceeded to tell me that I will probably never be able to have kids and that I will most likely keep having miscarriages. He showed no sympathy or empathy as he told me this. The only thing he said was, “I’m sorry,” in a tone that can only be described as cold and complacent. He said I was having a threatened miscarriage and that there was nothing that anyone could do, that I’d just have to wait it out. He then gave me a prescription for vicodin and sent me on my (not-so-) merry way. Turns out, I have uterus didelphys and have a great chance of having children.
    I have become so skeptical of the staff’s judgements that when they said that my blood type is different than what was on my birth certificate, I wasn’t sure what to believe. On a lighter note, I’ll (hopefully) be fixing THAT problem when I go to donate blood tomorrow evening.

    • Sorry Vicki, since the events were a few years back, I was a bit rusty there. Thanks for clearing that up…

      I’m pretty sure though, that my recollection of Chris’s experience was more or less on the mark. (You were there as well, did I miss anything?)

      • Queen Vicki says:

        Nah, that was basically what happened. But that was the 2nd instance that we had went in there, I believe. Remember several days earlier he was in there with the same symptoms and the triage nurse said it was all on account of smoking and that he wasn’t sick at all, even though his coughs were productive and he was wheezing? She got the ER doc (which Chris didn’t even get to see) to write a prescription or two for stuff he could get OTC anyway and sent him on his (not-so-) merry way. I remember how he chucked the ‘scrip papers and never filled them because it was a waste of time. Ooh! Remember the MRSA incident with his knee and how they procrastinated lancing it? Or when they misdiagnosed him with a hernia? How about that time that I just needed a note for school because I had killer cramps and the doc at MMC’s family practice clinic said that I was suffering from migraines because I was nauseous and had a light headache accompanying my cramps, how he wanted to give me Imitrex even after I told him I didn’t want to take it, and how I ended up with a full blown panic attack and slight hallucinations because of it? How about when I was having my second miscarriage? I was still bleeding fast and heavy, yet they wanted to discharge me. As I went to get dressed, I lost my baby and had to rush to the bathroom and scoop him/her into a specimen cup. They could have saved me that trauma by not discharging me yet, but NO, filling up a pad in less than an hour is perfectly normal, which I suppose is the reason why they say that if you fill up a pad in less than an hour, you need to go to the hospital. Okay, I’m done.

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