Nashville’s “safety net” hospital — Metro General at Meharry — has undergone a series of blistering budget hearings over its continued dependence on city funding. But instead of shying away, the hospital launched a series of town hall meetings to hear patient testimonials.
(The final three meetings: 6:30 tonight at the Fifty Forward Donelson Station; 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Hadley Park Community Room; Thursday at the Madison police precinct.)
For the most part, Metro General’s leaders have heard stories of troubling customer service, like from 60-year-old Kathleen Johnson, a longtime patient.
If it wasn’t for her pastor encouraging her, Johnson said she probably would have skipped the hospital town hall last week — and saved the cost of an extra taxi ride across North Nashville.
That’s the same way that she rode to Metro General in February when a bout of low potassium put Johnson, a former nurse herself, into a near stroke-like condition.
“I knew that I was in danger. I could not just sit there and say, ‘Well, I’ll take an aspirin,’ ” she said.
Unable to stand or really move, Johnson couldn’t get her gown on. But she told the group of Metro General leaders that her nurse that day wasn’t helping — and actually walked away.
“Then she went back out of the room. I’m thinking to myself, ‘OK, are you going out of the room to give me privacy? Or are you going out of the room because you don’t want to be my nurse?’ ” Johnson said.
There was also difficulty drawing Johnson’s blood — and then a mistake in the medication they sent home.
Hospital Director Joseph Webb apologized — and promised to do better.
“I hate that that happened to you,” he said.
Then Webb also thanked Johnson, and said he wouldn’t be defensive. He said it’s a work in progress, training every staff member to provide the kind of attention that he wants.
“Your experience is only going to be as good as that person you come in contact with. And if that person is miserable, then they’re going to make your time miserable there, and that’s what you’re going to remember,” Webb said.
Staffers who haven’t bought into Webb’s system the past two years — many of them have been “purged,” he says.
“We expect the level of performance would be comparable or exceed what you do anywhere else,” Webb said. “We don’t want to be a collector of people that provide substandard service.”
Crafting A Pleasant Hospital Visit
Webb has also changed the process of a patient visit.
It now begins with courtesy parking outside the emergency room — he’s careful not to label it “valet” to keep it approachable and unequivocally free.
Walk in — it’s non-smoking. You’ll be greeted by staffers who introduce themselves and explain their roles. They’ll be wearing color-coded scrubs, so if you miss their names you can still find them later.
And — unlike the way things used to be — everyone gets a private room.
Webb’s version enticed several testimonials that backed him up.
“I, too, have had those negative experiences. But one thing I can say is I’ve seen the transition with Nashville General,” said Tene Hamilton Franklin. “People didn’t seem welcoming at first, but I can honestly say the last two times that I’ve been ... I’m beginning to see evidence of that customer focus.”
Even Kathleen Johnson — who opened the meeting with criticisms — began to come around.
“At one time, people would not go to General Hospital. It was like, ‘You’ll die there.’ ” she said. “But now, I have to say, it’s cleaner. I like the grounds. I love the … white building and all that. It looks different now.”
She thought back to giving birth at General and all the Meharry Medical College students she’s met over the years.
“I feel it’s a good hospital. Don’t get me wrong,” Johnson said. “I was just telling about my experience.”
She said it seems the hospital is working out some “kinks.”
“I’m not going to stop coming — I’m just not going to keep my mouth closed,” she said.
Coming Tuesday: Metro General Promises Quality To Court Patients Who Can Pay