Great Service in Unexpected Places

Southside Regional Medical Center, for 20+ years, has been the hospital to avoid in the Petersburg/Hopewell/Colonial Heights area. They were notorious for not having enough ER doctors on staff, terrible patient satisfaction reviews, and old and antiquated medical procedures. My grandparents have been to the hospital so much in the last 20 years that if SRMC had a frequent flyer program they’d be George Clooney from “Up in the Air.” But we were always worried about their care in this hospital that seemed, frankly, dangerous if you needed immediate care. David Fikse, the CEO of the hospital from 2004-2010 changed all that when he introduced a new culture. Fikse led the charge to move the hospital to a new location with state of the art technology. He also redefined the values and the mission of the hospital to emphasize caring and responsiveness in addition to the emphasis on skills and training. Last week, when my grandpa had to go in for emergency surgery (he’s doing very well now, by the way), I noticed a huge change in what I had always thought of as a very deficient hospital. Here are a few examples:

One of the first things I noticed was that employees greeted us wherever we went. If an employee passed by, whether it was a nurse, security guard, doctor or janitor, they all greeted us and asked us how we were doing. We were given a restaurant-seating-style pager when he was taken down to surgery, allowing us to move freely around the hospital (cafeteria, gift shop, coffee shop, and even the maternity ward where they played Braham’s lullaby every time a baby was born) without feeling like we would miss something important. This took a lot of stress out of waiting for 5 hours because it gave us time to walk around and get our minds on something besides “I wonder how it’s going in there.” When we did sit in the surgery waiting area, the OR nurse gave us periodic updates on how surgery was progressing. There were certain outcomes (besides “death” as the obvious one) we were afraid of, so when they hit milestones in the procedure that meant those outcomes seemed unlikely, she came out and informed us. When the surgery was over, the doctor came out and discussed the procedure and results with us. He even brought out a picture of the area they had performed surgery on (as a before picture), to show us what had been causing his pain. Since the area they operated on was the colon, I personally could have done without this, but I’m sure it’s helpful to people with stronger stomachs. When we left to take my grandmother to dinner while he was in recovery, there was an employee with a golf cart waiting by the entrance to transport elderly and disabled visitors to their cars so they didn’t have to walk so far.

None of these things have a direct impact on the skill set of the doctors and nurses in the hospital, but as a worried visitor or patient, they make you feel cared for and ease your mind. Indirectly, they have a huge impact on the skill set of the doctors and nurses. Doctors and nurses want to work in the best hospitals. The best hospitals have high patient satisfaction ratings, the newest technologies, and a reputation for innovation. By investing in small ways, like increasing patient satisfaction through better interactions with hospital employees, and in big ways like moving to a new location and infusing better technologies, SRMC can lure the best doctors over time and continually increase their ratings. The doctor who performed my grandfather’s surgery was a recent addition to the hospital’s staff from Johns Hopkins.

The hospital’s rankings have improved, but still seem to be suffering from some lingering sentiment from its old days, but over the next few years I’d look for SRMC to climb into the Top 5 ranking for Richmond area hospitals as it continues to grow and place emphasis on caring for patients versus treating patients. I have a lot of friends in the medical field, anyone care to weigh in on SRMC?

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