Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Is there any place left for the mission? (What's really wrong with health care)

“There’s a sense we’re here for the mission, and it truly permeates."
That's what the head of the emergency department at New York City's St. Vincent's Hospital was quoted as saying in today's New York Times article about how the Greenwich Village hospital may be about to go under.
Just last week I was telling some of my classmates at NYU about my own hospitalization over a decade ago at St. Vincent's. It left a deep impact on me and helped drive me towards the rabbinate and a career in chaplaincy education.
The St. Vincent's I encountered was a special place. I admit that I can't say anything about the quality of medical care -- I have no way of judging that (I'm not a doctor). But what I can say is something about the quality of compassion I encountered. I remember St. Vincent's as a place where a doctor who had nothing to do with my case took a moment out of his day to talk to me when he saw me sitting by myself, consumed with fear, in a hallway. St. Vincent's was a place where a chaplain of great skill -- likely a Catholic -- came to see me in the middle of the night when I was finally taken up to a floor from the emergency room; she left me feeling comforted amid my pain and terror (and helped inspire me to become a chaplain, myself). St. Vincent's was a place so committed to spiritual care that a chaplain from my own faith was also sent to see me the next day. St. Vincent's was a place, most importantly, where I saw the staff universally treating each other, and their patients, with honor and regard; it was a place where it was possible to be human amid all the machinery of the modern hospital, a great goal to aspire to, but that most hospitals do not reach. It was a place that clearly had a mission, something far beyond making some money off their patients.
I am sad to see St. Vincent's fall on such hard times. It, indeed, is a sign that the health care system in this country is profoundly broken that amid all the insurance companies and the rules and the Medicare that there's no room left for a place with such a mission.

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