Nov 19, 2010

Healthcare facility, little consideration for people with disabilities

My 84 year old mother told me a story this morning. She had been to the clinic to get a vascular evaluation and had to make a six-month follow up appointment. In front of her line was a man in a wheelchair who was missing a leg. He and couldn't get close enough to the window behind which the hospital employee was speaking to him. They were having trouble hearing each other. The problem was made more difficult because of the glass security barrier at the window.

Mom stepped up and started relaying messages between the woman employee and the man. He needed an X-ray and asked if he could just have it then while he was at the clinic. It was difficult for him to get to the hospital. The woman asked how much time he had. Only an hour, because the special public transportation service made fixed appointments to pick up disabled passengers. That's not enough time, she told him. Mom says she could see his fatigue, and at her age, knew exactly how that felt. Finally, with mom's help, he made the appointment for the X-ray.

Then he asked how to get out of the office. The door was not wheelchair accessible, so mom went and helped him through it. Mom went back and the woman thanked her for helping. It turned out that she often had trouble hearing patients because she wore hearing aids. She wasn't allowed to make exceptions in scheduling, and the workstation didn't permit her to move closer to the man. She felt bad that there was nothing she could have done to make things easier for him.

After she made her appointment she left the office, and the man was still there, so she started to chat with him. He was a veteran, he said, but didn't say more.  He told her there are people where he lives who have problems like his, and that's just their life. They mostly accepted it.

While the state provides free transportation for them, they have to make arrangements the day before and must be picked up at specific times. Sometimes there are not enough busses when needed. She asked how he let the transportation service know he was finished at the hospital, and he pointed to the valet. Mom wasn't so sure about how that would work so went over and asked the valet if he had called. Fortunately, he was able to assure her that he had called for the bus and he would see that the man got his ride.

Mom had to recognize that she needed to place limits on how involved she got with people who needed help, so she made herself disengage and went home. She explained that her propensity for helping -- and I could tell you a dozen stories of other things like that she has done -- came from her family's life as homesteaders on the Nebraska prairie, where every farmer kept an extra straw mattress for someone traveling and needing a bed for the night. They helped each other at butchering time and haying time. They took turns boarding the teacher of the one-room school they had built. They all made it through the Great Depression.

How have we lost the ethic of hospitality and mutual help? How did the designers and managers of the appointment desk fail to consider the special needs of patients and employees? How did the hospital fail to have someone on hand to support people in such a situation? Is there always a prairie-reared woman in line to handle the problem?

How many ways can you think of that the clinic could have prevented the distress that these three people experienced that day?

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