Monday, March 19, 2012

Mercy Hospital; Selling the Sizzle!

     In both public relations and sales, individuals are taught, “Sell the Sizzle, not the Steak!” This process is to entice the public to focus on the positive traits of what is being promoted, while glossing over or totally ignoring the negative. In some cases, it is a way to evade the reality of what that person is trying to sell. Large companies, politicians, and even hospitals become masters of manipulating the perception of many situations.
     This spin, as it is referred to as, is the public relations departments of these groups put out press releases, and if they get published, a vast deal of positive press can replace expensive advertising. With that, it inhibits scrutiny, and when follow-up questions are asked; the conventional answer is the infamous, “We will get back to you!” Few ever do, especially if it invites analysis. This brings us to the various headlines inspired this time by Mercy Hospital of Lorain over the last couple of months. Specifically, the focus is on the sizzle from the one dealing with a “new” mental health unit they are promoting.
     Back in December, this hospital gathered some positive press and the article headline read, “Mercy opens unique behavioral unit in Lorain”. This was followed with the information of this “new” mental health unit with 24 beds and that it would “Compliment the quality care delivered by our dedicated staff.” With the current mental health crisis, the result of massive budgets cuts throughout all levels of government, and with the police becoming the de-facto mental health workers, this article immediately caught my attention. In essence, the sizzle was an eye opener!
     Once the reader gets past that sizzle they see the steak, and with it, the ever present gristle, the fat, which is the distasteful part of the meal. It is at this stage that the headline, which was the likely result from a press release, was more repugnant then the steak could overcome, and does not stand up to inquisition.
     Soon after, I contacted the individuals mentioned in the article to find out if this truly is an improvement over what had been done in the past. I was instructed, via voicemail, to leave my questions, and they would, “Get back to me.”
     My questions are; “Is this an increase or decrease in the number of beds? What did they (Mercy Hospital) do prior in their evaluation process that is so different? How many emergency room contacts does Mercy experience with the mentally ill and what percentages are admitted for treatment?” They are simple, straightforward questions, and two months later, I am still awaiting the return phone calls.
     It is clear that beyond the headlines, this unit will be nothing more the same, and that has not been working. There will not be a substantial increase in the number of beds available, or an improvement in the quality of care.  People are brought into hospital ER’s at an ever increasing rate, by local law enforcement, and after sitting around, they are quickly released with instructions to seek help. Forgive my ignorance, but isn’t that what hospitals are for?
     To be fair, I must say that given the choices in Mercy or Elyria Memorial, I still encourage people in Lorain County to bring their loved ones to Mercy, the lesser of the two evils. That is from a personal experience twelve years ago, when I spent some time at EMH. The resulting treatment nearly killed me, but that is a story for another time.
     To better illustrate Mercy Hospital’s spin at its bests, I must refer to a sentence in that article about this unit. The sizzle said, “The unit provides a collaborative care environment for patients with innovative safety features to address risks associated with behavioral health patients and a multi-sensory environment for behavioral management.” In other words, the gristle is like all mental health units; it is a lock down area, and they can restrain the patients. It must be pointed out that this is standard operating procedure from all mental health units, so where is this improvement?
     Eight years ago, I began my work as an advocate, and decided that I would never just be a critic, but would always add to my assessment the needed changes. I was critical of police work and have strived to work hard to help them understand the needs of the mentally ill. Overall, they have responded admirably. I recently called on law enforcement officials to follow the lead of Summit County Sheriff Drew Alexander, who refused to accept psychotic patients in his jail until they are properly stabilized, rather than treat them and street them, which is what hospitals routinely do. Mercy Hospital is no exception to that rule.
     My message to Mercy Hospital is clear and to the point. Please stop the cheap public relations spin to demonstrate phony compassion and understanding of those with one of these socially unacceptable diseases and make real changes. Rather than dehumanize the individual and send them on their way, admit them and treat them. Give them the opportunity to recover and live the life that all of us are entitled to live. With more treatment, fewer requests will be made of the police, and they can begin to spend more time being police officers. Because of the current state of affairs, they are the ones being called to intervene with a patient that had been denied admission to a hospital.
     I know my answers appear to be visceral, and in many ways, they are. The system is broken and in dire need of repair. I do not have all the answers, but neither is it appropriate to promote something that only masquerades as legitimate change. If hospitals are truly determined to make real changes, be transparent about them; do not hide behind press releases.  Also, invite scrutiny, because if it is real change, it will stand on its own. The taxpayers, who pay an immense deal for health care, demand the reality of what they are getting for their money.  Everyone deserves to be treated with humanity and dignity, even those who suffer with an invisible illness.
     I reiterate; Mercy Hospital is no worse than most medical providers, but maybe they have better public relations then most. However, these actions by Mercy remind me of another old saying. No matter what you do, you cannot make a sheepdog out of a Chihuahua! Sadly, it appears that Mercy hospital is attempting to do just that! Oh, by the way; I am still waiting for that returned call with answers, but I believe I already answered for them. That is nothing for that hospital to be proud of!

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