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Florida Update or The nth Circle of Hell at Tampa General Hospital

My father is now starting his fourth week of hospitalization and it looks like he will be discharged tomorrow or Sunday. He is thrilled to be going home to say the least. For 1 week after his surgery he was allowed no food or drink. Can you imagine not even being able to sip water for a whole week?!! You have never seen someone so excited about a bowl of clear broth – and I don’t blame him.
It has been an interesting experience at Tampa General Hospital – especially in comparison to the medical experiences I’ve had with my Aunt Vera in Boston (Mass General).

My father was first at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater – which is the hospital he worked in for many years – it’s a wonderful place with pleasant staff and amazing customer service.

Tampa General does have great doctors and nurses, but they have serious customer service problems with some of their staff. I call it a customer service problem because anytime staff acts in such a way that is negative for the patient (customer), it is essentially poor customer service. I believe any company or institution that approaches the culture of their organization from a customer service perspective can solve a myriad of problems, including the potential for lawsuits.

My father reported to us a number of stories of staff swearing at each other in the hallways – this seemed awfully unprofessional so I figured it was maybe an isolated event. Then one day while visiting I experience this completely unprofessional behavior. An assistant or tech of some sort in the hallway said, “I’m not disconnecting nothing – that’s not my job, that’s BULLSHIT!” She then proceeded to complain for a few minutes in a hostile tone with all sorts of vulgarities tossed in.

My dad looked at me and nodded and said, “That’s what I’m talking about. It goes on all the time.” I was shocked!

I immediately knew what the problem was: the insitution’s culture. All entities – whether it be a mega-corporation, a nonprofit, or a hospital – has a culture. You can think of it as a micro-society. Culture is influenced by many things – such as the rules of the “society,” the positive reinforcement for following those rules, the extra reward for going above and beyond the “society’s” expectations, and negative consequences when you defy the rules.

Essentially, customer service works from the inside out – if you have a negative internal culture, it seeps out to the “visiting foreigners” (in this setting, the patient), either by how they are treated (from impatient to downright hostile) or what they are subjected to (angry employees yelling bullshit in the hallways while you are trying to heal).

When you expect employees to treat each other with respect, and create incentives to treat each other with dignity (and help out when needed even if it ain’t your job), they become that culture – and they naturally treat their customers/patients with this same respect and dignity.
Case in point:

My father did not understand the alarm cord in the bathroom – he though you pulled it and it would do something – so he pulled it a few times thinking it wasn’t working.

Now if you had this happen and were a healthcare professional – you might think – whoah! Is someone in serious trouble? But not in this case – the woman came barrelling in furious – basically angry he pulled it more than once. Whoah, Nelly! That is no way to treat someone who has had life-saving surgery and is feeling weak and vulnerable. But this “professional” was used to treating her fellow employees poorly with inpugnity – the obvious extension of that is to treat all people in her work environment poorly. My father said even when he apologized she simply would not accept it – he pissed her off and that was that. Yikes! That is not someone who belongs in a hospital full of sick, vulnerable people!

Tampa General Hospital is in desperate need of what is traditionally called “Internal Customer Service” – a set of guidelines that helps employees know what is expected of them and gives them ways to reward EACH OTHER when they feel someone has shown exceptional customer service toward another employee. The company I work for uses “scratcher cards” – which you hand to a fellow employee to thank them for being especially helpful or positive. They scratch off a gold seal and see points or some reward which they can redeem in the company store. The feeling of good will this elicits is really wonderful – and the interesting thing is that it feels better to give than receive. It feels great to walk up to a fellow employee and say, “You really were great today – you took care of that request so quickly and really helped me out, so I’d like to give you a token of my appreciation.”

The feeling you get from recognizing your fellow workers starts to permeate the workplace, and soon the idea of saying, ‘That’s bullshit – I’m not doing that.” goes against your grain. You have created a positive customer service culture.

Various things can be used to remind people of this culture – from posters to games to pep rallies of a sort. It takes about a year for the culture to start to show significant changes. Usually the negative people feel more and more marginalized and eventually no longer feel comfortable – they either leave the culture by quitting or find ways to change and be part of the culture.

Tampa General would do well by its staff and its patients if it created an internal customer service initiative to deal with the high level of negative employee behavior in its hospital corridors. The benefits are great – it becomes a nice place to work so you get far less turnover of healthy employees and you also are less likely to get sued. Face it – it is a lot harder to sue people you like than a faceless hospital with nasty and hostile employees!

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