Commentary: Decade in hospital PR never prepared me for what patient-care is really all about

Don Kirkland, Wrangler News Publisher

By Don Kirkland

A couple of years after helping Publisher Chuck Wahlheim build what ultimately would grow from its sleepy, family owned origins into what would become the vibrant, community-focused Mesa Tribune, I was approached by the CEO at Desert Sam to take over as the hospital’s chief communications officer.

While I didn’t realize it at the time, my new job’s No. 1 responsibility would be to act as
a buffer between the CEO and the media, whose increasingly frequent demands for interviews by various reporters he considered time-consuming and low priority.

While I had plenty of media experience, I knew little about hospitals. Though I did my best to immerse myself in the complexities of medical care, I never had an opportunity for an overnight-or- longer stay. Lucky me, most would say.

My “education,” therefore, came from the doctors, nurses, administrators—sometimes even patients—who were much more directly involved and thus able to help me develop a fundamental understanding of this particular niche of health care.

Some of my best lessons came from Jackie Evans, a onetime Vietnam helicopter nurse who served as Desert Sam’s associate administrator. Jackie was tough as nails and an immutable advocate for and defender of the hospital’s nursing staff—willing, we assumed, to do hand-to-hand combat, if needed, to protect her nurses, and by extension their patients, from any sort of intrusion she felt might compromise care.

So it was from Jackie and the nurses under her tutelage that I learned to admire, respect, and generally be in awe of, the nursing profession. Which leads me to my recent stay at what is now Banner Desert.

While my time at Desert Sam proved enlightening, rewarding and memorable, I have in recent years also developed a high regard for the staff at Dignity Chandler Regional Medical Center.

Their willingness to provide us with knowledgeable physicians and nurses on myriad subjects of interest to our readership has helped us produce a newspaper that we consider more timely—more relevant—than it would be otherwise.

Dignity also uses our pages to advertise the many programs and services it provides in our coverage area, and of course we appreciate that support as a way to help keep Wrangler News coming to your driveway every other week throughout the year.

Recently, when Dr. Robert Campbell discovered a suspicious mass during my otherwise routine colonoscopy, he suggested that I agree to what he felt was a needed surgery.

Naturally, because of our longtime relationship with Dignity, my hospital preference would have been Chandler Regional. However, because of scheduling, Banner Desert emerged as the best option. I went in on a Thursday afternoon, was home early Saturday.

Not only did the procedure—my first ever—turn out to be successful but an eye-opening look at how patient care has evolved since I was the hospital PR guy.

To say that I felt like a guest in an elite hotel, doted on and pampered as if I were at the Ritz-Carlton, would be something of an understatement.

So that glimpse, as initially unanticipated as it was, reinforced my belief that today’s nurses
and doctors fill an even more extraordinary role than I recall from my early days, doing it caringly, knowledgeably and professionally, no matter which hospital it is that they have chosen for their life’s work.

To all of those who provided my care, thanks for letting me have that experience.

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