In our little corner of Washington State, a corporation such as Skagit Valley Hospital is daunting. It's big and getting bigger every year. Hospitals have a corner on the market of life and death for our county's residents.
Whether you're sick with something scary like cancer, or you've fallen and broken a hip, or a grandchild has a big gash on their body from sliding down the barn's shiny roof. Ultimately you end up in the local hospital; in our case: Skagit Valley Hospital.
Outside, the walls are thick concrete; inside the hallways are maze-like and confusing. Expensive art adorns the walls of the spacious, carpeted lobby; the areas for patients are crowded and noisy; the rooms are sterile cells with beds and equipment.
If you call the main number with a question or concern, it takes infinite patience to deal with the computerized answering system, and then you have to remember which of all the options was the right one. Sometimes you can luck out and get a real person by hitting "0" but not always. It takes real determination and much luck to achieve anything close to success.
Some people give up trying to fight the system; others spend so much time on hold, listening to ads for "a more youthful appearance with ..." that they forget their question. Many corporations and even government bureaucracies count on what they call "citizen fatigue."
My approach in dealing with any issue with any corporation has always been to start at the top. Call the CEO's office.
Or better yet ... write a letter to him (or her) although it's usually a him. Then, as in the case of a large medical facility, also write to a couple of key member of the Board of Directors.
In most cases, using this approach allows you to bypass the impersonal computer as well as avoid being passed from one clerk to another. Those at the top know that bad publicity is not a good thing. And even the hint of the potential for malpractice? "Not on my watch" is usually the attitude of those at the top.
About 3 months ago I had an appointment with a doctor in this enormous medical labyrinth. He looked young enough to be my granddaughter's prom date. Three months out of medical school. But he was a nice guy who actually talked "to me" once he overcame his natural inclination to impress me with the complexity of the medical jargon he began using when describing the nature of my issue.
In fact he was cute, referring to my Asics Running shoes as "sneakers." And he actually did prescribe a potential solution that will probably help once I have time to acquire the thing.
Since I always like to read the reports of doctors I visit -- believing that it's MY body that is generating their cash flow -- I had some difficulty getting the one from Young Dr. Kildare. And when I did get it, there were some "inconsistencies."
Inconsistencies in any part of the medical arena concern me. Those folks in the white duds deal with life and death issues. There is little room for inconsistencies, let alone mistakes. We've all heard the stories.
So, as the local Caped Crusader, I wrote a compelling letter to the CEO and a couple of Board Members. And lo and behold, in less than a week, I got a nice letter back from the CEO himself telling me that someone in Patient Relations would be helping me before the end of the week.
That's when things went sour. When I ended up talking to one the of clerks at the bottom of the org chart I always tried to avoid by going to the man at the top of the org chart. After listening to her blathering for 30 minutes, we both agreed the issue was out of her pay grade.
Then I lucked out by getting the name and phone number of the CEO's assistant ... one of those people who actually keep the organization running. And in this case, she was exceptionally capable and caring about me the person. It was impressive.
Within 30 minutes she had scheduled a meeting with me and three key staff members of this sizeable health care institution. In fact we'd be meeting in the CEO's conference room. Sweet.
I always arrive early and was ushered into the empty conference room where I sat in my favorite chair: the one at the head of the table. Power point is far beyond my abilities, so I had a nicely typed 2 page paper presentation: Page 1: The issue(s). Page 2: What I wanted.
When the august members of the Corporate Board of Directors came in, my cane was prominently displayed and after introductions I asked if I could possibly go first, since 5 minutes would be all the time I required. They were gracious and attentive as I covered my "issue" points quickly and then moved to why I was there.
That meeting turned out to be one of the most enjoyable "confrontations" I've ever had with an institution. In fact there was no confrontation at all. There was no posturing on their part. Instead the primary speaker for the hospital helped me understand that the nature of half of my complaints were simply communication issues. It was analogous to both sides having expectations that are not stated and thus not understood. What married person doesn't have years of experience with that?!
At the end of our 30 minute amicable dialogue, all of us learned how we could have avoided every aspect of my issues. And over half of the responsibility for the problem was mine -- in not understanding their procedures and not clearly stating my expectations.
It was such an amicable meeting that I actually hugged one of the board members. I left happy, and the others left relieved.
Corporations are indeed made up of people. People who are educated and trained to do their jobs; people who care about the work -- especially if it's in the medical field where they actually save lives. And people, who need to be allowed to speak candidly and act compassionately, rather than having to be so careful and defensive that their humanity gets lost in the shuffle of avoiding saying the wrong thing.
When I arrived that morning and secured the last parking spot for blocks, I swore I would never again go to any doctor in that massive organization with its relentlessly aggressive tenacles choking the last of those who wanted to retain a private practice.
And when I left the building, having achieved the one thing I wanted as a gesture of Good Faith on the part of this Goliath of an organization, I knew that I would feel perfectly safe and comfortable using their extensive medical services, should I ever require them.
It was a good day. A win-win for both sides ... topped off with a hug. How can you possibly do better than that? Except by receiving an especially nice letter from the Chief Medical Officer of that massive organization, Skagit Valley Hospital, as I did yesterday.
Corporations are built on the abilities and integrity of the people in those corporations. And there is still power in the pen. Speaking up for your beliefs -- or better yet -- writing a letter to the guy at the top of the heap, still works.
It's the American Way ... where we are all, indeed, equal. I'm so proud to be a citizen of this country. Now, if I could just meet President Obama, I'd feel like the year was off to a truly good start.