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Published on March 12, 2018

caregiver with patient

Patient Safety Awareness: A CEO’s Perspective

March 11-17 is national Patient Safety Awareness Week. During this week, we asked health care professionals and leaders to share from their perspective as a patient or as the loved one of a patient. Mary Maertens, President & CEO of Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center in Marshall, Minn.

Having a background in nursing as well as hospital administration, I realize I would not make a very good patient.

That’s because I tend to tell the provider what he or she should be doing. Yet I think this is valuable in at least one way, in that I’ve learned that I need to advocate for myself and my loved ones.

I have not often been a hospital patient, but I have had two birth experiences. I remember the things I wanted as a patient – compassion from the staff caring for me – and I received that. Of course, I also wanted a good outcome.

I completely understand the anxiety parents giving birth experience, and thought I was a more-empathetic nurse after I had my own birth experiences. It’s about patience, attentiveness, consideration and meeting the patients where they are – not where I am. It’s understanding that we each come with our own experiences, good or bad.

Today, my experiences as a patient involve regular primary care and preventive services and some specialty clinic services. I appreciate when physicians and staff look me in the eye and answer my questions, understand my anxiety and above all maintain my privacy and view the interaction as sacred.

As a mother of two daughters, I have taught them to be advocates of their own health care experience. We are still working on that. As a member of the “sandwich generation,” I’ve also had numerous experiences as a family caregiver. My mom has had many, many health care interactions. I understand the emotional roller coaster that comes with that role.

For my parents, I wanted them to be viewed as human beings, with real needs, rather than as a disease state. When it was the latter, I got a little angry about it. I wanted them to be able to return to their highest state of function, and I wanted their caregivers to believe they could. Many times that did not happen.

I wanted my parents to feel cared for and cared about, not just to feel like an appointment in someone's schedule. In many cases, we found they were cared for by our providers. When we didn’t, I found a person who would honestly care for them! I also found the importance of care coordination for complex health conditions, and I learned how palliative care can afford my parents choices when their health really wasn’t giving them any. It was competent, caring professionals who made big differences for them - and for me. 

It is a lifetime of experiences that moves me to be a leader of a team at Avera Marshall that demonstrates these attributes.

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