Friday, February 6, 2009

Vanderbilt no longer best place for cancer treatment; be better-served at home at Williamson Medical Center, other area hospitals

Williamson Medical Center ran an impressive commercial about the quality of care for the delivery of babies during the Tuesday Newschannel 5 newscast at 5 p.m.

The emphasis was quality, top care close to home, with your needs coming first. I could not agree more -- but from a different perspective.

That is for cancer treatment.

For the past three years, I have been going to Vanderbilt Medical Center for treatment of leukemia. That required a round trip, along with getting need prescriptions, of one hour. For those of you out who have ever received chemo, you know that every minute counts to get home to endure the weakness and nausea.

Vanderbilt has some incredibly gifted and compassionate doctors, nurses and staff. But for its massive size, it is the same kind of bureaucracy such as at the Statehouse in Nashville. Managers and bureaucrats determine everything, particularly the ease of your care. I've had a problem since July 2006 of getting a place, clinic and manager inside the hospital to take responsibility for simply giving me an IV to receive chemo for my leukemia.

I no longer have what is called a "port", which is a place surgically opened and placed in your body to immediately receive chemo and draw blood monthly for blood counts. The problem with my port was that it was the point of the infection that entered my body and almost killed me over 12 summer days in Vanderbilt in 2006. Only my rescue by God through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe saved my life. I must always proclaim that truth.

I feel so sorry for the poor nurses and doctors and staff. They have heard the same complaints from so many other patients about so many problems in how the care they provide is mismanaged by the system. And they are unable to overrule managers and bureaucrats. So my hematologist told me it was all right for me to write this column about my continuing problem in hopes of helping other people he wants to heal.

And so I am writiing today. In the Stem Cell Clinic that I go to, the policy for treatment of patients -- for example in where I can get an IV -- changes every two to three months. And so patients are bounced between the first and second floors like ping pong balls. And they are the ones who are sick. Some are dying. Some are in wheelchairs with barely enough energy to hold their heads up. I was there once like that. Those days are hard to live, let along live with the hassle of a system changed every three months.

I got an answer Tuesday from the so-called patient advocate at Vanderbilt, Mary K. Sturgis, about my latest appeal for change to help patients, besides myself before the bureaucracy. She continued, however, to excuse the inexcusable.

It is bureaucracy and rationalization first and always at VUMC and so many of other institutions in our society. The consumer, taxpayer and patient be damned.

Well, guess what, all ye institutions. We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!!! (Thank you, Peter Finch.) We're going to speak up and demand to be noticed if you want our business and tax dollars.

Now, it is finally time for We the People to be respected. I don't listen to Les Miserables for simply entertainment.

On to the barricades!

For the past week, I have been investigating chemo services at Williamson Medical Center. And it has been reassuring to find that the capabilities there are extensive for your treatment and survival -- close to home. The patient satisfactory rate is one of the highest in the nation. Lessening the hassle you have to go through is essential in fighting cancer.

Now if you have leukemia, you'll need to go to Vandy. But for most other cancers, stay close to home and avoid the unaccountable bureaucracy that even the good doctors and nurses and staff at Vanderbilt hate.

Here is another advantage -- this time as a taxpayer. County public hospitals are going to take the hardest fiscal hit from the downturn in the economy. If you invest your health care dollars in your own county hospital, you are ensuring not only its survival but the best possible care in an emergency ... and a lessened public revenue need.

And there is accountability at Williamson Medical Center not available at Vanderbilt. A hospital board meets publicly each month. And on it is one of the best public servant I've ever known, County Executive Rogers Anderson. If you have any problem with the hospital and your treatment, Rogers and the board are there to listen and then to immediately enact change.

Conversely, Vanderbilt needs to reform its bureaucratic monstrosity that serves the system more than the patient. It's the same story about the Statehouse and Congress. It is my prayer that some VUMC executive who lives in Williamson County will read this post and demand change that Ms. Sturgis and the manager of the Stem Cell Clinic fight.

If not for the patients, then I hope that the executive will act for change according to the high level of compassion provided daily by Vanderbilt doctors, nurses and staff.

1 comment:

Sharon Cobb said...

Patient affairs contacted me too, without my requesting their assistance.

They are screwing up left and right with this new electronic system "My Health At Vandy," which is convenient for making appointments and checking blood work, but is horrible for communication with doctors. A nurse reads your email and decides what the doctor needs to know from it without knowing your complete history. I have severe liver damage now, possibly because my cardiologist had me a on medicine that my liver doctor did not want me on...but even they refused to talk to each other and would only message each other.

Folks, if you're going to Vanderbilt for more than a cold, you're taking your life in your hands. Get out while you can!