Overnight hospital stay leaves CEO feeling good

Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2004

So what's it really like, spending a night in the hospital?

That's what Central Peninsula General Hospital Chief Executive Officer David Gilbreath wanted to find out when he recently checked himself in complaining of chest pains.

The pains, fortunately, were fictitious, as was the name Gilbreath gave when he presented himself to admissions after hours.

No shrinking violet when it comes to public appearances, Gilbreath disguised himself in blue jeans, an old shirt and a fishing cap instead of his normal business suit attire, hoping he would not be recognized as the big boss.

He did not want any special treatment. He simply wanted to see what it is like to be a patient in the health care facility he is charged with overseeing.

Even if someone did recognize him, the fabricated chest-pain complaint would certainly be believable of a patient in his mid-50s.

The only person in on the secret was the emergency department physician on duty that night.

"I wanted to put myself in the patients' shoes. I wanted to hear, see, taste and sense what the patients do," Gilbreath said.

"I've been doing health care for 25 years, and fortunately my health has been good and I've never had to spend a night in the hospital."

Within five minutes of his arrival at CPGH, Gilbreath was connected to an electrocardiograph (EKG) machine to monitor his heart and had an 18-gauge needle in his arm to administer medicine directly into a vein in an instant, if necessary.

Within an hour, blood was drawn for an enzyme test to help detect a potential heart problem and he was put on oxygen.

The CEO was then wheeled to the medical-surgical section of the hospital, where he was admitted.

After the nurse completed an intake interview, Gilbreath began his critical assessment of the room, looking for cleanliness, making sure the bathroom was spic-and-span and checking to see if the television and the call buttons all worked.

Everything passed the test.

"The room was very clean. The staff was professional and caring. The care was appropriate," Gilbreath said.

The next test the facility faced was noise.

Did the doors squeak? Was there unnecessary chit-chat in the halls at night? Were ice machines making a lot of racket?

"I wanted to hear what the patients hear," Gilbreath said.

He was pleased to not hear any noisy ice machines or staff member conversations outside patient rooms, but he was surprised to find that the hospital's clocks all synchronized themselves on the hour every hour, making a disturbing chattering noise.

"I'm a sound sleeper and it actually woke me up," he said.

Since the clandestine visit, the clocks have been reprogrammed to get in sync during the day, when the sound is not as noticeable.

Gilbreath also found that doors, which open and close without notice during the day, can be quite noisy in the middle of the night.

"Our maintenance people are looking into a way to make the (metal-on-metal) sound of the latches more quiet. We may put some sort of heavy lubricant on them," he said.

After being awakened at 10 p.m., 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. for a check of his vital signs a procedure that is necessary the CEO made it through to the next test.

How good is hospital food?

Breakfast was served to him in his room and he found everything passed the test of the cold items being served cold and the hot things hot, and he said the breakfast was presented well.

One complaint was that the whole-wheat toast was served buttered, with an extra pat of butter on the side.

"Personally, I like dry toast," he said.

Since his visit, toast is now served dry, with butter or margarine on the side so the patient can choose.

As a Plane Tree facility, CPGH is supposed to offer patient-oriented health care, so Gilbreath asked the on-duty nurse to see his hospital records.

"She brought them to me and went over them with me," he said.

At 8:30 a.m., the CEO had reported that his chest pains had gone away, everything else checked out and he was discharged ... back to work as the hospital's top executive.

"I was quite pleased with what I found," Gilbreath said.

"If you have an emergent problem, you want to come here.

"The (emergency department) staff is highly trained and can stabilize you and get you to other care if necessary.

"This ED is highly trained with a professionally trained physician on staff in the hospital at all times, 24-7, 365 days a year," he said.

Gilbreath also observed that he didn't smell anything offensive or inappropriate during his stay, adding that CPGH does not have the antiseptic smell many hospitals have.

"It was a good experience," he said.

"I even found the bed and the pillow to be very comfortable even more comfortable than at many hotels I've stayed in."

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