Saturday, February 23, 2008

MASH camp

This week 19 middle school students finished up MASH Camp at Community General Hospital. They learned CPR, got to put casts on one another’s arms, and saw what it’s like to operate operating room equipment (see the photo, at left).

MASH stands for the Medical Academy of Science and Health, and Community runs this special program for junior high school students each year during February break week. I got a chance to visit with the future nurses, doctors, pharmacists, technicians and therapists as they ate lunch.

I talked about how Community got started, and I showed them a brick from the old General Hospital of Greater Syracuse. (That’s where the “general” comes from in Community General Hospital). I talked about the role of government in health care, and I showed them a flag that flew over the nation’s capital, a gift from Congressman Jim Walsh.

Health careers offer youngsters a great future with many options – but they need a good education. That’s one of the messages of MASH Camp: stay in school and do well in math and science.

The other message? Ten or 15 years from now, knock on Community’s door when you’re looking for a great place to work!

To see the MASH campers, check out Mike Price’s spot from this week’s WSYR-TV newscast (click on “Good News: Hospital Mash Camp 2.20.08”).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A moment in the life story of a mother and a family

My thanks to Drs. Howard Weinstein and Maria Banda for their op-ed piece this week in the Syracuse Post-Standard about the quiet advantages of Community General Hospital’s Jim & DeDe Walsh Family Birth Center.

The article, headlined These patients not lost in numbers, responded to a story about two weeks ago. That story, Population boom, reported on the number of patients discharged from local hospitals last year.

It was gratifying to see the article by Drs. Weinstein and Banda talking about the advantages of Community’s maternity service, advantages that are not usually available at community hospitals.

Dr. Weinstein is the Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Community, and Dr. Banda is an experienced house officer, one of the obstetricians who assist private doctors with C-Sections, surgeries, and the care of maternity patients at any time of day or night.

Their op-ed piece mentioned the on-site house officers. These are experienced physicians, not doctors-in-training, who are available around-the-clock for Community's maternity patients.

They also talked about 24-hour on-site neonatology coverage for every single birth, backed up by neonatologists, plus the caring, patient-sensitive nursing staff that gets high marks from patients and doctors.

Community’s maternity service typically ranks in the top quartile of all area hospitals in the annual review by the Regional Perinatal Center. And our C-Section rate is the lowest among Syracuse hospitals.

Community’s investments in maternity services date from the very start. Our very first patient on January 1, 1963 was a maternity patient!

Over the years there have been many additional investments, including recently. Some have been highly visible, such as the award-winning Walsh Family Birth Center. Others, less so, such as the reconfiguration of obstetrical house officers last year. In each case, the investments were made to assure high quality, patient-centered care for mother and baby.

Every birth is an important, a personal moment in the life story of a mother and a family. Each birth represents a personal commitment to excellence by Community’s experienced and caring staff.

As Drs. Weinstein and Banda said: “The beauty of a smaller practice is that no one patient is lost in a multitude of numbers…”

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An eye opener

“What an eye opener,” said an employee this week after attending the annual meeting of the Employee Community Service Fund. His e-mail said, “I think CGH employees really don’t know what’s going on with the employee fund.”

What’s going on is the good, quiet work of CGH people.

For more than a decade, the Employee Fund has helped members of the CGH family who experience unexpected financial hardship. The help can go to any member of the hospital family, employees, retirees, or active volunteers. The hardships involve emergencies, tragedies, and difficult situations – a house fire, the death of a loved one, or financial problems following a divorce or illness.

Such situations are varied, and each is handled privately, one-on-one, by a member of the 14-person panel that governs the Employee Fund.

When I mentioned the employee’s e-mail to panel-member Maureen Blackmer, she said that it’s not easy to talk about the work of the Fund because each situation requires confidentiality. “Some situations are heartbreaking,” she said. “Until you hear about them, you don’t appreciate the need. It’s so important for the Fund to help.”

Last year the Employee Fund helped two-thirds of all who applied for assistance. In all, 22 applicants received emergency assistance totaling $18,466.

In addition the Fund helped the United Way of Central New York, which received $28,450, thanks to the generosity of employees and others.

The donations helped 31 specific United Way agencies, including AIDS Community Resources, the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, Canine Helpers for the Handicapped, Dunbar Center, Hope for the Bereaved, Hospice, Syracuse Jewish Family Service, Catholic Charities, the Rescue Mission, and Vera House.

What was the source of such generosity? There were 500 donors to last fall's Employee Fund campaign, and the average gift was $91.51. To each of the employees, retirees, and volunteers who made a donation, thank you.

Thank you to Nancy Thompson for her work as Chairperson of the Employee Fund. And thanks also to all members of the Fund: Maureen Blackmer, Kristin Dombroske, Tracy Fenner (secretary), Donna King, Melissa Martin, Debby Michaels, Gillian Ottman, Ken Redmore, Phil Sherwood (treasurer), George Slavinski, Nancy Towne (vice chairperson), Jean Waldron, and John Zacharek.

Saturday, February 2, 2008


When David Halleran, MD, was elected president of the Community General Hospital medical staff last month, he carried a dictionary with him to the podium. He opened to the definition of “collegiality” and reminded his colleagues how important it is to maintain respect for one another and to work toward common purposes.

Dr. Halleran, who is a colon rectal surgeon, said that "collegiality" is the theme of his term of office, and he encouraged his colleagues to recall why they chose careers in medicine. He reminded them how satisfying it can be to collaborate with others on patient care. “It’s still a great profession,” he said, “when you are caring for the patient.”

The stresses and strains affecting doctors were recently the subject of a New York Times article, called “The Falling-Down Professions,” which said, among other things:
▪ About 60 percent of doctors reportedly have considered leaving the medical profession.
▪ Nearly 70 percent of doctors know a physician who has already left medicine.
▪ Applications to medical schools are down about nine percent from 1997.
▪ Physician incomes have lagged behind those of other professions.
As the Times reported, “Complaints about managed care crimping doctors’ income and authority over medical decisions are nothing new, but the problems are only getting worse…” It quoted a doctor's complaint: “What irritates me the most is the use of the term ‘provider.’ We (physicians) didn’t go to provider school.”

If physicians have become “providers,” patients have also become “consumers.” The imagery may be inexact, but the commercialization of the medical care process is clearly a factor in the changing doctor-doctor relationships, the changing doctor-patient relationships, and (as I can attest) the changing doctor-hospital relationships.

This week I again heard Dr. Halleran speak about collegiality, this time at a meeting of the Quality Committee of the Board. He said that collegiality involves more than “being cordial.” Collegiality facilitates more effective communications among physicians regarding patients and their care. It’s also facilitates physicians and nurses working effectively to improve patient safety and to assure that patients get the right care at the right time.

Professional collegiality, or the stresses and strains to which it is subject, is an issue bigger than our corner of the world. But I’m very happy to have Dr. Halleran calling us to order – and getting us to work on it.