Sunday, August 5, 2012

Something Else That Sucks About Bend: Its Hospital

Kind of a shocking headline at the top of the front page of this morning's Bulletin: "Staff questions safety at St. Charles."

The story went on to tell how a survey of operating room staff at Bend's only hospital "raised widespread ... concerns" about patient safety. Only 40% of the staff who took the survey said they would feel safe having surgery at St. Charles themselves. The average score on the survey, which has been conducted annually for the past four years, has dropped from 49 in 2009 to 39 in January 2012.

Actually, the story isn't all that shocking to somebody who's lived in Bend for more than a quarter of a century and is familiar with the Bend way of doing things.

People in Bend like to say they work hard and play hard, but the reality is more like "play hard, and work as little as we can get away with." As a PR client of mine -- a prominent, longtime Bend businessman -- used to lament, "People come to Bend to play, not to work." And that's probably just as true of surgeons as sheetrockers.

Add to that the culture of mediocrity* that permeates the place -- the attitude that being "a nice person" is far more important than being excellent, or even competent -- and it's not hard to imagine that culture penetrating the operating room too.

Hard data on how the attitude toward safety affects patients' health is hard to come by, but the Bulletin story did note that in 2011, there were 14 cases of surgical site infections in patients who had bowel surgery -- twice the normal rate for hospitals of St. Charles's size.

And I personally have known too many cases of surgery patients who experienced unfavorable outcomes -- up to and including dying on the operating table.

Of course, such mishaps happen -- happen way too often -- at hospitals everywhere. Nonetheless, I've made up my mind about one thing, and given my loved ones a clear directive about it: If I need surgery and I have any choice in the matter, I want it done somewhere other than Bend.

ADDENDUM: Recently I encountered a Bend woman whose child had been suffering chronic pain. The Bend doctors -- even the so-called "pain specialists" -- had been able to do nothing to help the child. Finally the parents took the child to a top medical clinic in the Bay Area, which fortunately was able to diagnose and treat the problem. Bottom line: If you have a broken femur or a torn ACL, Bend is a great place to get it treated. If you have anything more exotic, fuhgeddaboudit.

*The culture of mediocrity does not apply to athletic endeavors, which is the only area in which Bendites strive for and prize excellence.