I learned that the 148-year-old community hospital that I did my residency at will be closing, and I am angry. Who am I angry at? Myself. Oh, and you. I’m angry at us because we as a country have turned our backs on one another. And in the end, your relationship with your own doctor is in jeopardy.
Pawtucket, Rhode Island, home of Memorial Hospital, used to be a prosperous mill town. There were two dozen hotels, a half-dozen movie theaters, and spectacular mansions. Currently, there is one motel, no movie theater, and a soon to climb (from 7.1 percent) unemployment rate. It’s the same old story you’ve heard before; the mills were boarded up, and the jobs went overseas. The formerly prosperous Memorial Hospital began its economic tailspin because, without paychecks, the patients could no longer pay their bills.
Before you stop reading, let me tell you how this impacts you. In 2013, Care New England purchased Memorial and began to slowly strip away its soul. They overturned doctors’ medical decisions and led nurses to fear spending those few extra minutes with patients that really matter because, after all, time is money. Then, in a final touch of class, the administrators with clipboards (and no medical training) announced their “restructuring plan” on National Doctors Day.
This restructuring is symbolic of what is happening nationally to the doctor-patient relationship. The doctors that trained me taught me that sometimes the best medicine is a hug, or a cup of ginger ale with crushed ice. (Sometimes it is also two anti-hypertensives, a diuretic, insulin, and two pressors.) They taught me to put my car keys back in my pocket and run to the ER if a code was called as I was walking out the door. They are the reason that I took the time when home with two sick kids today to call a struggling patient and do my best to ease her pain. They aren’t the reason I give a damn; they are the reason that I didn’t stop giving a damn.
There is so much anger directed towards doctors these days. “They don’t care.” “They don’t spend time.” “They don’t look up while typing.” Let me tell you a secret: Doctors don’t want to be this way. They want more than anything to be like the ones that trained me at Memorial Hospital. They want to hold your hand when you are in pain, they want to tell you how to adjust your diet to improve your health, and they want more than anything to have a meaningful relationship with their patients.
What happened to Memorial Hospital is symbolic of what is happening to medicine in the United States. If you want a doctor that cares, and isn’t afraid of the Care New England’s out there, I challenge you to stop complaining and do something about it. Buy American made goods, so our cities come back to life, support local businesses instead of saving eighty-nine cents at Walmart, and speak up for the little guy before he gets swallowed whole.
I am eternally grateful for the education and training I received at Memorial Hospital, and tonight, I grieve. I grieve for future generations of doctors that won’t get to experience what I did. I also grieve for you, the scared patient, who will be discharged home 23 hours after your surgery because someone somewhere with a clipboard said it was safe to do so. It may be too late for Memorial Hospital, but it’s not too late for our country.
Allison Fox is a physician and can be reached at Renew Holistic Health.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com