At Your Service: September 10, 2008

This fall on television begins the last season of the long-term hit series "ER," the show that brought us George Clooney and nonstop action in a metropolitan emergency room. A visit to our own MMH ER tells a similar yet very different story and gave me the chance to meet some local stars.
I accompanied someone to the emergency room after a fall, my first such visit in quite some time. It gave me the chance to get an up close and personal experience of the quality of service I have heard so much about over the years and reflect upon the state of rural health care.
Rural hospitals provide essential health care services to nearly 54 million Americans, including nine million Medicare beneficiaries. This reflects about 25 percent of the total population, yet only 10 percent of the physicians certified in this country work in rural hospitals. In our area we see doctors staying just a few years here before they move to their next position. The physician gap is filled to a significant level by the work of certified nurse practitioners.
We spent a good deal of our time at MMH with a nurse practitioner who, in addition to having a terrific bedside manner, was an able diagnostician and quite skillful. I was particularly impressed by the level of professionalism and attention to detail. Even more impressive is the devotion to caring for the person that is the patient.
While we occupied one bay, injuries and illness came and went from the other – a heart attack scare, a chain saw accident, a child who fell from her bicycle – a nonstop flow of people with problems that called for immediate attention. In every instance, the ER staff moved with a determined will to provide what was needed to heal and soothe.
The nurses, radiologists, doctors and administrators were each in their own way examples of caring health care professionals. They went about their respective responsibilities in ways that made it possible for the patients to relax in the comfort that they were in good hands.
While television portrayals would have us expect frenzy, there was a calm in the MMH ER that belied the hectic nature of the workload they faced. I have been to other hospital emergency waiting rooms, but this was the first with a toy box. While urban hospitals discourage and sometimes forbid the presence of children, here there was a provision for families. While Daddy was being treated, a toddler and his sister, played and completed their homework under the watchful eyeof Mommy. She was able to divide her attentions between them and her husband without undue strain because the hospital had anticipated their needs.
I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to the EMS team that responded so quickly to the 911 call. They too were examples of excellence from start to finish.
In the course of our lives, it is easy to take for granted the presence of our hospitals. We trust that when the need arises, they will be there to provide caring and expertise. Like many other rural hospitals, MMH has struggled to stay in business and joining the Kingston Regional Health Care System brought much needed relief from some of the challenges. But the support from the community and various fund-raising efforts are on-going and need our continued attention.
When something happens to someone you love, it is quite frightening. The worries could easily overcome faith and trust in those charged with their care. At the MMH emergency room and in the entire emergency response team, we have a group of people that make it easy to believe. Their professionalism is one thing, but the level of caring they bring to the task is something entirely different.
Service MMH style includes a recognition of the emotional needs of patients and their families. It is the work performed by professionals who care on a very personal level. That caring translates into an experience that builds confidence and enables you to relax in the face of extreme concerns – knowing that indeed we are all in good hands.
While the television provides us with a portrait of what can be done by hospital stars, a visit to MMH gives us a portrait of something much more vital – real life heroes.