From simple displays of kindness to extraordinary acts of care, The Real Story highlights the critical work hospitals do every day to care for patients and support frontline caregivers.
Hear the important voices that matter on the issues facing hospitals and health care today.
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Hospitals are there all day, every day to care for anyone who walks through their doors – no matter their level of need.
Hospital integration has improved the care hospitals can provide through better coordination and increased access to advanced medical technology. Put simply – it saves lives!
The Federation is embarking on a campaign to tell The Real Story of hospitals through the voices of patients and caregivers – Rachel Watson is one of those people. She credits the high level of care she received from the dedicated staff at an integrated hospital system with helping her survive COVID-19.
Last year, Rachel and her husband David both fell ill with flu-like symptoms. A quick trip to the nearby urgent care clinic in their hometown of Dunnellon, Florida confirmed what they both feared – they had COVID-19.
Each day after the diagnosis, David got a little better, but Rachel got a little worse. Finally, after almost a week, with her breathing labored, David called 911.
Paramedics rushed Rachel to HCA Florida West Marion Hospital and the staff immediately put her on an oxygen machine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Rachel required more intensive care and the decision was made – she needed to be put on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine. West Marion Hospital didn’t have the equipment, but because it was part of HCA Healthcare, an integrated hospital system, she was able to seamlessly transfer to an affiliated facility a few hours away, HCA Florida North Florida Hospital in Gainesville.
Once she arrived, the staff quickly got Rachel on an ECMO machine, which kept her alive for the next 89 days. She faced several complications and her heart stopped five different times, but the staff met each challenge using coordinated care and the highest level of treatment to keep her alive.
But that is only part of the story because the staff didn’t just take care of Rachel; they showed extreme compassion to David and their three children finding creative ways to keep them connected with Rachel – even when they couldn’t come into the hospital. One nurse put a battery-operated heart lamp in Rachel’s hospital room window each night so David and the boys would know exactly where she was so they could pray underneath her window. And even though she was unconscious, nurses took an iPad into Rachel’s room every night so David and the boys could talk to her via FaceTime.
The care team also scrupulously cared for Rachel’s dental health and paid close attention to her hair. It was all part of caregivers’ efforts to make sure Rachel felt her family’s presence.
Finally, more than three months after she was admitted, Rachel—“the glue that holds our family together,” according to her husband—was discharged. The staff held a hallway parade for her as she left the facility – everyone cheering her recovery.
But the work wasn’t over for Rachel – her next stop was Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Ocala. She had to re-learn how to walk, talk and even eat solid foods. The staff did everything they could, pushing her emotionally and physically, to get her back to her normal life. And 19 days after she was pushed in via wheelchair, she walked out under her own power. David said it was so emotional that the staff were shedding as many tears as the family.
Today, thanks to coordinated care across integrated hospital systems, Rachel is back to her active life, with just a few lingering effects from her arduous experience. She thanks the dedicated care team at each hospital for her recovery—even when her odds of survival were low. “They could’ve easily given up. But they could tell my personality and my spunk. They knew I was going to make it. There was at no point where I didn’t have someone with me.”
Hospitals aren’t just the four walls of a building. They are integral parts of community infrastructure, with the caregivers who live in the community, and provide critical care – both physical and emotional – to their neighbors.
The Federation is embarking on a new campaign to tell The Real Story of hospitals through the voices of patients and caregivers – and Courtney Clarke is one of those people. A registered nurse from Somerset, Kentucky who went above and beyond to meet the needs of a patient and her family.
She joined Chip for a special episode of Hospitals In Focus to share her compelling story.
It started when a patient came to Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital with signs of being anemic. It was clear to the staff that she would need to be admitted so the issue could be treated properly, but the woman refused and threatened to leave because there was no one to care for her children.
“The doctor strongly advised her not to leave because her blood levels were so critically low that they feared that if she left there was this strong chance that she may not make it back.”
Her husband was serving in the military and the family had only moved to Somerset two weeks earlier, so they didn’t have any friends or family in the area. The patient’s number one concern was picking her children up from school.
That’s when Courtney’s training as a caregiver and instincts as a mother kicked in.
“At that point it wasn’t if we were going to help this family, it was how far can we go to make this happen!”
She and the team at the hospital came up with a plan. They would take care of the kids at the hospital while the mom received treatment.
“We were able to round up some extra beds and we put four of them in the room. Then I contacted the dietary services department to let them know we would need additional meals for the kids. We also collected clothes, toiletries and snacks so that the children would be as comfortable as they could be while they were here.”
Courtney also arranged to get them to and from school during their stay and one day even fitted the kids with scrubs and took them on a tour of the hospital.
“I’m a mother too, and I think that’s why this tugged at my heart strings maybe just a little bit more. I put myself in her situation, you know, I would want my kids, even though in an unfamiliar situation and area, to have as much as normalcy as possible because that’s important for kids.”
While she spearheaded the efforts, Courtney says it was team effort to keep this family together.
“This isn’t something that we normally do, but under these unique circumstances, we had to bring all forces together. Everybody jumped in and we had to find a way to help this family, especially being new members to the community. I mean, what a way to really show, and set an example, that you’ve come to a good place. We’re here for our neighbors. We’re going take care of you. Whether you’re in the hospital or whether I see you at the grocery store, I’m going shake your hand and give you a hug.”
Her caring and kindness were appreciated by the family. The children wrote her a letter that currently hangs in her office and the patient’s husband was so grateful – he wrote the governor of Kentucky singing Courtney’s praises. A little while later another letter showed up, this time it was from Gov. Andy Beshear.
“He thanked, not only me, but our hospital and community for helping this family during that time. It was a nice gesture, you know, it was just the cherry on top of the whole situation. And it was nice to get that recognition because nurses do this daily. I’m honored to have done this and I would do it again a million times over. Nurses around – not only in the nation – but the world, we do this on a daily basis. We go above and beyond for our patients, maybe not in the same way, but in other ways. It’s nice every now and then to get that recognition, to know that I had done something really good.”
And with a growing hospital nursing shortage, she encouraged others to join her at the bedside.
“Just do it – follow your heart. That’s what I did and it led me to right where I needed to be. Nursing school, I will say, is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done in my life, but it’s definitely worth it. If you’ve ever considered it before, and if you ever feel that in your heart or in your gut, that it’s what you’re meant to do then that’s what you should do.”
She also credited LifePoint Health, the integrated health system that manages Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital, for not only caring for patients, but also caring about its nurses.
“Some think if you work for a big system, you’re not really considered to be anything other than a number, but with LifePoint, and I can say, especially at our hospital, you are more than just a number. They truly look out for you and your best intentions all the time. And if it hadn’t have been for them, I couldn’t have afforded to go to nursing school. They helped me with student loans and additional assistance. I appreciate LifePoint and I feel that I couldn’t work at a better organization or facility.”
The health care workforce is the backbone of the lifesaving care provided by our nation’s hospitals – from nurses and doctors to food service workers and technicians, all are important.
Unfortunately, hospitals and health systems are experiencing challenging workforce shortages across the country. It’s a worsening situation that could ultimately compromise the ability to provide patients with high quality care – and COVID-19 only made it worse.
FAH members are using a variety of programs to take care of our own caregivers, but we need help.
Policymakers must take actions that incentivize workers to enter the health care field and ensure training opportunities for the next generation so we can continue to meet the rising demand.
Read more about The Real Story of health care workforce.
Hospitals and health systems are adapting to deliver higher-quality, more affordable care to patients in an ever-changing health care landscape. Hospital integration is an efficient way to better coordinate patient care, increase access to advanced medical technology, and lower patient costs.
It also expands access to care by ensuring smaller hospitals can continue treating patients in underserved, rural, and vulnerable communities.
The COVID-19 pandemic proved that hospital integration and scale can serve patients and communities during times of dire need. Integrated health care systems showed their mettle in the pandemic as drivers of advancement in care. They were there for patients with the cutting-edge treatments they deserve and expect from hospitals.
Read more about The Real Story of hospital integration benefits.
Medicare Advantage is growing at a record pace and while the program offers seniors some benefits – it can also limit access to needed care.
Medicare Advantage plans put insurance companies in control of care instead of patients and their doctors. By using prior authorization to deny or delay patient access to treatments and cutting payments to hospitals, these plans create unnecessary, and potentially harmful, barriers to timely medical care.
Insurers are increasingly paying hospitals less than the cost of the services they provide to seniors with Medicare Advantage plans, forcing already at-risk hospitals to absorb those costs.
Read more about the Real Story of Medicare Advantage abuse.