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Life at the intersection of health and mental health: The secret sauce

January 27, 2014
by Sue Bergeson
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The other day I had my fourth one-day surgery in a period of a few months and the next day started going to life-long mental health diagnosis and treatment. My experience in one-day surgery this time was really interesting for me to think about.  

Three of my one-day surgeries have been in two different hospitals who reside in the same hospital system. Let’s call them Grace Hospital and Hope Hospital. Both Grace and Hope have the same one-day surgery layout, the same equipment in the patient "rooms" the same gowns and socks, the same procedures. My two experiences at Grace were really pretty good. My experience at Hope was a disaster.

At Grace I was treated like a unique person, the staff asked me about myself, they were kind. My family was quickly brought in to be with me while I waited. At Hope, which had the same policies, procedures and physical plant layout as Grace, I was ignored. I had to repeatedly remind people – despite the big pink wrist band – not to use my right arm for IVs and shots. The staff rushed around yelling at each other. At one point they left my curtain open and I could see six of them yelling at each other because of a missing fax from my record. Six people.  

The manager of the unit then said she was going to lunch – in the middle of the panic and argument about my paper work. Then she then came over and shut my curtain saying something like, "Why I always screw up when the census is low is beyond me." Great for a patient to hear, right?

By now it is more than clear to me (and to you as well) that the missing ingredient here in this identical system – the secret sauce that made the difference between the two experiences – was leadership. In the Hope system, the leader of the unit is clearly not aware of how to lead, or they simply have encouraged a culture that feeds a kind of energy level and chaos they prefer to have around them. If you like adrenaline and you prefer problem solving, then a chaotic environment is your best friend. Not so much when you are the patient waiting for yet another surgery dreading the experience and the result.

For the last few days I have been wondering about my own leadership style. What do I do that gets in the way of a person-centered experience for those who touch my workplace. Am I a part of the Grace Hospital team or the Hope Hospital team?

There are lots of leadership models out there. After my experience at Hope, I am rooting for a truly person-centered leadership model to take hold in that one-day surgery unit of that hospital and in my own leadership as well.


Sue Bergeson

Serves as the Vice President of Consumer and Family Affairs for a large managed care company


Sue Bergeson is a behavioral health consumer and a family member of behavioral health consumers...

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