A week after my relative Helen left a hospital on the east coast, I wrote to the CEO of the five-hospital system, including three letters in one packet. The first reminded him that our paths had crossed a decade earlier, when we were both working (outside of our day jobs) with a national organization dedicated to improving how health care works in America.  The second letter commended one of the nurses.  The third letter detailed, in 26 pages, nine significant problems that had arisen with Helen’s care in the hospital, and offered suggestions for addressing those issues to avoid harming patients in the future.

My siblings were politely skeptical that I’d even get a “thank you for writing” response.  So what did happen?  First, I received a call from the system’s CEO, who thanked me for writing, apologized profusely, and told me he had convened a task force of the most senior people in his organization who oversaw care to address the issues I raised. 

Second, I received a call from a senior executive at the hospital itself, to tell me more about the work they were undertaking to fix the problems. 

Third, I received a 3-page, single-spaced letter jointly authored by the doctor at the hospital who is the medical director as well as the director of surgery and by the master’s-degreed nurse who is responsible for overseeing nursing care in the medical-surgical units in the hospital.  They responded to each of the nine issues I had raised, telling me how each issue should have been prevented, and what they would change for patients from now on.

Fourth, I received a call from the executive vice president who is their chief clinical officer for all five hospitals, asking if I’d be willing to participate in a conference call to discuss the issues. 

Fifth, I got a letter from their Patient Relations Manager, offering to talk if I had any open questions.

Sixth, I got another call back from the senior executive at the hospital itself.

Seventh, I had the conference call that the chief clinical officer had requested, with him and another senior executive, in which we had further discussion.

The hospital executives repeatedly thanked me for telling them about the problems, apologized sincerely, and described changes they would make.

They did not try to excuse the problems by saying that everyone is well trained, hardworking, and doing the best they can.  They did not argue that I should have done something different during Helen’s stay.  They did not say that the care they give is usually great and my mother’s case was just an unfortunate exception.  

Their responses showed that they genuinely care about improving quality of care.