Archive for September, 2011
For my American friends and readers, we’re having a provincial election here in Ontario. Since health care is deemed a provincial responsibility (though funded extensively by the federal government), it’s naturally a hot topic of discussion. At the televised leader’s debate a couple of days ago, New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath managed to step in it, just a little, by suggesting Emergency Department staff at Hamilton General Hospital treated her son inappropriately or even incompetently after he injured his elbow skateboarding. ”He went to an emergency ward in my community,” she said. “They didn’t do anything for his fractured elbow. They sent him home, said it doesn’t really need anything, they can’t afford a cast, and go home and somebody will help you figure out how to put a sling on it.”
Unlike St. Joseph’s Health Care Centre in Toronto, which took a pasting in the Toronto media after an elderly man made allegations of abuse, Hamilton General pushed back:
Despite her clarification Wednesday, some hospital staffers felt Horwath’s comments were unfair, said Jeff Vallentin spokesperson for Hamilton Health Sciences.
“All I know is there are lots of folks (working here) concerned about the comments … some feel it’s an unfair representation of the hospital.”
He added that no one has made an official complaint about Leonetti’s visit to the ER.
The hospital’s chief of emergency medicine would not speak on the specifics of the Horwath case, but said it is common for elbow fractures not to be put in a cast.
Dr. Bill Krizmanich works in emergency at McMaster University and said there are many degrees of fracture, from a hairline to a full-out break, and each is treated differently. The elbow is a very complicated joint because of its range of movement and the treatment depends on the severity of the injury.
The most common elbow injury from skateboarding is a radial head fracture, which normally heals permanently in about four to six weeks with very few future problems.
“In those, we don’t splint and we don’t cast. It heals on its own … (and) early mobilization of joints is helpful.”
At the end of it all, Andrea Horwath walked backed her comments, somewhat: her intent, she claims, wasn’t to attack staff but to highlight systemic problems. “The example,” she says, “was meant to illustrate that people are disappointed with the service they’re getting at the hospitals. In the event, it turns it turns out Horwath was not even with her 18-year-old son during the visit; her retelling of the story was at best second-hand — and 18-year-olds are not known for taking direction well.
I guess, to be charitable, Horwath was trying to personalize a complex issue, i.e. validating through personal anecdote reports of poor care at Ontario hospitals. Unfortunately, the leader of the party of the Left managed to fall into the trap of repeating the same tired meme (ironically!), beloved of right-wing politicians and pundits that Canadian public health care is The Pit From Whence Few Return Alive.
We all have stories of poor treatment by health care institutions, and I am sure this is a commonality of both Canadian and American health care systems. My own story relates to being seen in the ED of Belleville General (I was passing through) presenting with sudden onset of severe headache. I was treated badly by the Emergency physician who plainly thought I was some drug-seeking tourist from The Big Smoke. (The nursing staff, I hasten to add, were superb and professional.)
But anecdotal evidence, while having the power of making the complex real and personal, is also the worst kind of evidence. It’s pretty difficult to generalize conclusions from anecdotes. Even if Horwath’s story is true and my story is true, you can’t point to a larger conclusion, as Horwath does, that “people disappointed with the service they’re getting at the hospitals.” It’s logically faulty. In any case, the larger point it isn’t actually true, and illustrates nicely the problem of using anecdotal evidence for anything: more often then not you’re going to be caught with your pants down. Statistics Canada has the data.
In Ontario, 86% of people were either very or somewhat satisfied with the health care received. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely, and I am a bit worried about the gap between “somewhat” and “very”, which the StatsCan study does not elaborate upon. If we’re going to talk reasonably about health care reform, let us at least speak rationally, and use evidence and best practices. Bashing health care agencies and professionals isn’t helpful, especially when (I suspect) large number of health care professionals are sympathetic to the New Democrat message.
Posted by torontoemerg in Before I Start Throwing Things, I'd Better Write This Down, Health Care, Nurses Behaving Badly on Thursday 22 September 2011
This story concerning alleged abuse of a senior at St. Joseph’s Health Care Centre (and yes, I know “alleged” is a weasel word) has been making the rounds in the Toronto media, including some blaring front pages in the Toronto Sun:
Ron Meredith claims two burly security guards at a west-end hospital manhandled him, dragged him to an empty room and shackled him to a bed like an animal.
The frail 79-year-old alleges he lay there unattended at St. Joseph’s — forced to wear a diaper — for seven hours until he was discovered by cleaning staff.
His only crime, he claims, is that he was sitting in a chair waiting patiently to be discharged.
“What they did to me was unbelievable,” Meredith said Monday, still in shock and covered in bruises two days after his ordeal.
Woken up by a noisy patient in the next bed, Meredith got dressed, went for coffee, and believing his discharge was imiment, sat down by the nurses station to wait. Unfortunately, the situation escalated.
He claims two security guards, “big guys,” approached shortly before 7 a.m.
“They accused me of trying to escape and told me to go back to my room,” Meredith recalled.
The senior explained he was waiting to be discharged but the guards again ordered him back to his room.
“I told them I was already dressed and I didn’t feel it was necessary to go back.”
After a third warning, he says the situation turned ugly.
“All of a sudden they pounced on me,” Meredith claims.
Both guards allegedly pulled him out of the chair, pinned his arms behind his back in a painful position and dragged him down the hall to an empty room.
“They threw me on the bed and I hurt my back on one of the rails,” Meredith said, adding the guards then cuffed his wrists and ankles to the bed.
“They really did a job on me,” he said. “And when that diaper was put on me I knew I was in for a long haul.”
Ugh. Nasty story. The thing is, as an old RN, I can immediately see suggestions there is much more to this story than meets the eye. The bruises, for example, on this poor patient’s arms are clearly old and related to IV starts or blood draws; they are particularly common in patients taking anticoagulants, which I strongly suspect this patient is on. They weren’t caused, in any case, by undue restraint. Further, one wonders if this patient refused a reasonable request to return to his room and wait for discharge; the patient then became increasingly angry and frustrated, and matters escalated from there.
On the other hand, as an old RN, I can clearly (and distressingly) understand how this story is completely plausible. Poor (or no) communication from the nurses on the inpatient unit to the patient and family on the care plan. Overreaction and assumptions made on the part of the nursing staff. Stereotyping of the elderly as always confused and/or demented. Overuse of restraints. Underlying view of nurses that patients must be under control at all times. (Hospitals aren’t prisons!) Et cetera.
The point is that there isn’t enough information to make an informed judgement one way or another, accusations made by the media notwithstanding. The problem is when health care horror stories — a favourite Canadian meme — appear in the press, it’s always a one-sided conversation. When hospital spokespeople say they cannot discuss the issue because of patient confidentiality, they aren’t being obfuscatory. Hospital administrators aren’t perpetuating a cover-up By law, hospitals absolutely cannot make public patient information. This is to protect patients themselves. I mean, do you want information about you bum boil perianal abscess publicized?
The interesting thing for me is that the story, and how it is being played out in the media, suggests the public has a fundamental lack of trust in hospitals/health care and their ability to address complaints, and especially serious complaints like this one. This is precisely because there is a legislatively mandated lack of transparency. It’s not like hospitals want to treat patients shabbily, or think unethically (and possibly illegally) restraining patients is best practice, or don’t approach patient complaints with the necessary due weight. From experience, I can verify hospitals take all sentinel events extremely seriously, because we are, after all, in the business of making people better. I have no doubt that multiple various administrators at St. Joe’s are addressing the issue as I write. In short, time is needed for the appropriate investigations to be made.
I have to think, whatever the outcome, that this whole business was fundamentally a nursing issue. It could have been avoided. Basic Nursing 101: Avoid power struggles. The nurses should have just let Mr. Meredith sit in his chair. Maybe that’s the ultimate takeaway.
Happy Labour Day.
Overheard in Fast Track:
Grandmother: (pointing to hat on child with a Canadiens emblem) Who are they? Who’s your favourite hockey team?
3-year-old child: Habs!
Some other patient: Losers!
I tell you, she had some nerve, that child. In Toronto, no less.
She Walks in Beauty
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
— Byron (1815)