Six months today…

Six months ago, today I held my husband’s hand as he took his last breath.

In some ways it seems like such a short time period… in other ways it seems like an eternity.

The day is not off to a good start.  I’ve already had to deal with a collection call from Hopkins.  I had to deal with another one yesterday– actually 2- the same department called me twice.  I did however find out that Hopkins filed the death certificate on November 2nd at the main hospital.  In my opinion I did my part, although you would think that with Dr. S. being John’s oncologist, his death would have been noted already.  Apparently they don’t have a centralized system for dealing with death certificates, so each separate area will call and send letters… you would think a state of the art hospital such as Johns Hopkins would have a better system in place with centralized notification for such things, but apparently they don’t.

Dear Johns Hopkins Hospital,

You may want to invest in something called a computer system to centralize your deceased records.  I realize that this involves spending money and hiring programmers to create a system.  There are also programs such as Lexis Nexis (http://www.lexisnexis.com/) of Fast Data Web through First Data (http://www.firstdata.com/en_us/home)  which can be utilized at a cost to determine if a customer is deceased.  Perhaps in this tough economy, Hopkins does not have these funds available.

If that is the case there is a handy dandy free program that could be used.  It is available on roots web (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/) under the heading “Search Indexes and Databases” and called “Social Security Death Index” (http://ssdi.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/ssdi.cgi).  You simply plug in the social security number and almost like magic it either gives you deceased information or it tells you no record found.  Since you are a hospital, lets face it, you have have a lot of  patients who die.  The billboard near Hopkins reads, “miracles happen at Hopkins,”  but for many patients  they won’t get their miracle and bottom line, they’ll die.  Therefore, it could become a standard operating procedure for your employees to run the social security number prior to making the collection call.

I recognize in some instances there are estates for customers and you will be collecting money.  I’m sure with the many $10, $15, & $25 co-pays this creates millions of dollars of revenue.  (In reality, the six to ten calls and numerous letters that I’ve received from Johns Hopkins have probably cost your institution more than the trivial co-pays that you’ve been calling to collect upon.)  I do realize that customers who are not covered by insurance or those with in-sufficient health insurance generate a large amount of your revenue.  Collecting from the deceased I’m sure is big business.  So, I know that this will not eliminate all calls, but it could streamline your nagging, annoying, and pointless multiple calls into one efficient and professional call.

Knowing a customer is deceased prior to calling would give your employees the chance to 1. seem intelligent and professional and 2. show compassion and caring for the families loss.   They could also say things like,, “I’m calling in reguards to John Smith’s estate, could I please speak to the executor of the estate or get his or her contact information.  I’m so sorry for your loss and I appologize for bothering you.”  This could be done instead of asking to speak with John Smith.  In which case, I usually reply something to the effect of, “I’d love to speak with him too.”  I think I’m going to add, “Do you have the number for Heaven.”

You may also want to educate your employees to seem more sincere, a proper condolence is not just a “I’m so sorry for your loss.” thrown as a “they- tell- us- to- express- condolences, so- I- have- to- throw- it- in- somewhere- just- in- case- somebody- is- listening- to- the- call.”  As an FYI, a condolence should at least appear to be heartfelt and sincere.

Furthermore, if an employee is aware they are calling regarding a deceased account they would be emotionally prepared rather than caught off guard when they hear that  a 35 year old man with a year old child is deceased.  It would hopefully prevent them from making stupid comments like, “boy, he was young, wasn’t he.”

In addition, a centralized system for deceased reports could eliminate multiple phone calls and streamline your collection efforts.  Just yesterday, I received three phone calls from Hopkins.  Yes, you heard that right, THREE different phone calls from ONE hospital on ONE day.  Perhaps Johns Hopkins is under the belief that people have time to take and respond to different phone calls from different areas, but in reality most people lead busy lives and don’t have the time, patience, or understanding that they must call five different places to resolve one issue.  To a lay person they want one call resolution.  I already sent in a copy of the death certificate like I should have.  This was received in early November and in my opinion, I’ve done my part and should have no further issues.  However, it is clear that is not the case.

The one collector had to listen to me as I recounted my husband’s life and my disappointment with how Dr. S. repeatedly wanted to discontinue treatment and gave up on my husband.  I feel like Dr. S. spent more time trying to stop treating my husband than he spent treating him!  I think a doctor who wants to quit fighting before his patient is ready to quit, when there are treatments available is horrible.  I’ve always felt that a doctor with resources should be willing to fight as long as the patient wants to fight.  Doctors are supposed to be resourceful, brilliant, and intelligent and in my opinion they should seek to find every avenue available prior to stopping while the patient wants to fight. Who knows, perhaps if Dr. S. had been more focused on treating his patient and following his patients wishes, there would not be a need for collection calls.

I told the collector that my husband embodied the phrase LiveStrong and that he lived strong and died fighting.  I told her that he was a tremendous father and all he wanted to do was to live for his son.  I told her he was a top notch firefighter who loved his job.  I even told her how the members of  Annapolis Fire Department took care of John while he was alive.  I told her he was an awesome husband.  I told her that six months to the day, I held John’s hand as he took his last breath.  I asked her if she had ever had to hold her beloved husband’s hand as life slipped from his body and he gasped for air.

During the time she spent listening to me ramble, she could have handled many additional collections calls.

In addition, the numerous collections calls put a great deal of undo stress on the widow/widower/ family of the dearly departed.  I’m still trying to calm my my nerves, stop crying, and lower my blood pressure.  I have yet to go to sleep and will probably lie in bed till I cry myself to sleep.  Putting such stress on people is, in short, cruel and inhumane.

Furthermore, there is a population of people who will out of frustration share their experience.  Perhaps they will chose to write about the experience on their blog for the whole internet to see.  Yes, that would include me.  Perhaps they will also post their experiences on internet bulletin boards.  Yes, I’ll be posting it on the widow board that I frequent.  At minimum, most people out of frustration will share their negative experience with my friends and family.  It is a well proven fact that people share negative experiences with more people than they share positive experiences.

The reaction of friends, family, and readers of blogs and internet posts will undoubtedly be, “I can’t believe that a world class hospital like Hopkins doesn’t have a better system in place.  That is ridiculous!!”

To which, I’ll merely answer, “I agree.”

When people hear that a hospital can’t centralize a simple procedure such as death records, ultimately some will question if a hospital can handle the complex things– like practicing medicine– treating patients– saving lives– and fighting cancer…

So, it ultimately, it would be a good idea to streamline the deceased reporting procedure to not only create efficiencies and save money and resources of your collections department, but to reduce the stress of family members of the deceased.

Sincerely,

Mary K. Smith

Beloved wife of John P. Smith II

Forever loved.  Forever missed.

Hmmm…. now I just need to find some addresses to send it too….

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About Mary K. Smith

I was widowed in July 2009, when I lost my beloved husband, John, to melanoma. Cancer SUCKS. We have a young son who was just a year old when his father died. I live on a small farm in Maryland which is home to horses, cats, and a dog. I started this blog as a way for me to heal, a way to remember my husband, and eventually I'd like to share it with our son so he can see the love that his father had for him, the love that we had for each other, what a great person his father was, and how hard his father fought to live.
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