Around lunch time on the first day of my first rotation as a third-year medical student, I sent a group of my friends a text message.
“Well, I just hit the panic alarm and shut the building down on accident so no matter what you guys are probably having a better day then me right now.”
Almost immediately I got a text back, “Nope, I clogged the toilet.”
My first rotation was in-patient psychiatry. As I entered the floor, I realized only half of it was in use. The other half was shut down, lights off, and computers moved out.
It wasn’t that there was a lack of patients needing care, quite the contrary. Patients in need of mental health care were staying longer in emergency department beds and receiving less-than-ideal care as they waited for a bed to open in the in-patient unit.
The reason half this floor was shut down? Toilets. The toilets weren’t up to code and were a safety risk for patients. The hospital did not have $500,000 in order to perform the renovations, so they brought one half of the floor up to code and shut down the rest. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated issue and is happening in hospitals around the country.
Intermountain Healthcare has taken a unique approach to solving the mental health care crisis our country is facing. They have opened multiple Behavioral Health Access Centers across the state, from St. George to Ogden, where patients in need of care can admit themselves daily. Instead of utilizing emergency department resources, where costs can add up quickly and mental health care is usually subpar, patients in need can be seen almost immediately and can quickly receive the care they need. These Behavioral Health Access Centers have dramatically decreased expensive emergency room visits and patient care is improving.
Unfortunately, our small community in Oregon does not have access to a program such as the one Intermountain Healthcare has pioneered. The staff here have stepped up, though, and made the most out of a dreary situation.
When a patient acted out in front of me, they quickly used this as a teaching moment, reminding me that this patient is someone’s father, brother or son. The lady sitting on the couch by herself is someone’s grandma and mom. When you start seeing these patients for who they really are, as someone’s loved one, spending $500,000 so they get the care they need really doesn’t seem like that much does it?
While the future of health care may seem bleak, I truly believe it is in good hands. Yes, there are new medical students running around, setting off panic alarms and clogging toilets, but these same medical students are committed to fixing and solving America’s broken health care system. They are committed to putting patient care above all else.
Medical students enter school knowing they will spend less time with patients and more time filling out electronic medical records compared to years ago. The cost of a medical education has also skyrocketed, and students are leaving school with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.
Despite all these factors, some of the most caring and genuine people are entering the field to take the wheel, dedicating to making sure all their future patients get the care they deserve.
So, while America’s health care system may feel like a clogged toilet, I know there’s a lot of great people already working on solutions to fix it.
And just in case it’s still clogged in a few years, I don’t mind being the guy to hit the panic alarm again to get us back on track.
Bobby Cannon was raised in Salt Lake City, graduated from Southern Utah University with a degree in biology and is working toward his medical degree at Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest in Lebanon, Ore.