Sorry Works!

Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Comment from Family About Sending Mail After Adverse Events

Last week we posted about the Jahi McMath lawsuit and, in so doing, drove home the point about NOT sending marketing magazines, bills, fundraising appeals, surveys, etc to families who have suffered adverse medical events -- see below for original post. It's kinda strange when you think about...for the longest time, doctors and nurses have not talked to patients/families post-event, but the hospital happily sends junk mail and bills that only increase the anger felt by families! With disclosure we need to turn this situation on its head. In response to the original post below, a reader left the following response on the Sorry Works!'s a gem: "YES, YES, YES. When our son Zachary died due to medical negligence, the hospital continued to send us literature "Congratulations on your newborn" "What your 4 month old will be experiencing" etc. We begged them to stop. The fact that one part of the hospital did not communicate with another part to protect grieving parents was agony for us. I would be finally surviving a day of horrendous grief, proud of a smile, that I was able to eat 2 bites of sandwich, unload the dish wahser, that I wasn't on the ground begging God for my son to be home in my arms and WHAM the mail would come. What that does to a grieving parent is like getting the news again "He's not going to make it", "He's not coming home", "When do you want to take him off of life support". And your day, your week is hijacked. Back into the throws of despair you return. You can't breathe, you wail, you stare catatonic at the piece of mail from the person place or thing that killed your child. And the reality is that it is true "Sorry works!" What a beautiful phrase. I applaud whoever came up with it. After a recent surgery, I almost died at the hospital. I had to have a second surgery, because of a mistake the doctor made. When I awoke from the surgery, my Dr was sitting by my bedside CRYING. He said sorry. It was his fault. He was unaware that an instrument he used cut a whole in my colon, causing waste to enter my body cavity. It almost killed me, a fact that was so hard for my husband and Mother to witness 5 yrs after his son, her grandson had died because of medical negligence. But the Dr. said sorry and a peaceful wave of forgiveness washed over us all, immediately. 'Sorry works!'"

When I speak before hospitals, I often have risk managers saying, "If I can just get my docs and nurses to say 'sorry' after an adverse event and call risk or legal we'll be miles ahead...these are simple things."   Add not sending mail or bills to the family post-event to the list of "simple things" hospitals can do after something goes wrong.

Final Note: Of course you can (and should) mail a sympathy note or sympathy card, even if you don't know the family that well.   Just don't send them marketing magazines proclaiming your latest miracle, invites to the fundraising gala, "satisfaction" surveys, or bills threatening to put them into collections.

- Doug

Doug Wojcieszak, Founder, Sorry Works, 618-559-8168


Weekend Wrap: Jahi McMath Lawsuit and Sorry Works! Connection (originally posted March 6th)

Many of you will remember the story of Jahi McMath, the young girl who suffered a major adverse event following a tonsillectomy at Children's Hospital Oakland, was declared brain dead, then her family fought successfully to have her kept on life support and transported to another facility for additional care. Well, some of you may have heard, Jahi's family filed a lawsuit this week against Children's Hospital Oakland....a link for a news story about the lawsuit is provided below.

There is an interesting connection between this hospital & case and Sorry Works! -- when reading the article linked below you will see at the end of the article a quote from Mr. Wade Westhoff. The Westhoff Family also lost their own daughter after a major adverse event at Children's Hospital Oakland in January 2013 before the McMath tragedy. The hospital was not empathetic, and did not communicate or stay connected with the Westhoff family post-event. Instead, the hospital mailed multiple marketing and fundraising letters along with a quality survey to the Westhoff's house! These mailings were a constant reminder of their loss and angered the family. Wade and his wife Jennifer did their own investigation and found several mistakes in their daughter's care. Wade and Jennifer met with the hospital and offered to reconcile and help fix the post-event communication processes at the hospital. The Westhoff Family also asked that the mailings be stopped. Initially, the hospital was receptive, but, then, the wheels fell off the cart...and the hospital mailings to the Westhoff family continued. Wade warned the hospital they had serious safety problems and the hospital was ill-equipped to communicate with angry, grieving families....then Jahi's case happened.

Wade and Jen have filed a lawsuit over their own daughter's case. Sorry Works! did two blog postings on the Westhoff family story, including a letter written by the Wade and Jen about their experiences with Chidlren's Hospital Oakland. You can find those two articles here and here.

There are many lessons from the Westhoff story, but one of the big and easy take aways is....quit sending mail to folks after an adverse medical event! It incredibly insensitive and can be viewed as abusive, and will increase the anger felt by families. Leadership needs to quickly shut down marketing and fundraising letters; bills need to be put on hold; and surveys stopped. All communications - written, verbal, e-mail, etc -- with a family after an adverse event need to be routed through the disclosure team. When I teach disclosure I always drive home this point --- because it's so simple, so necessary, yet so many healthcare organizations miss this point. STOP SENDING MAIL TO TRAUMATIZED FAMILIES!

Here is the link to the article about the Jahi McMath lawsuit which includes the quote from Wade Westhoff.