I recently had a knee replacement operation and needed to be hospitalized for a few days. The hospital I chose is part of a faith-based health-care system that widely advertises its commitment to treating the whole person, including the spiritual and emotional lives of patients.
In the hospital’s public spaces—the lobby, auditorium, hallways, etc.—you’ll see huge posters with 6-foot-tall black-and-white photos showing scenes of people with captions stating the organization’s core values: service, compassion, excellence, partnership, stewardship. On the walls there are signs that quote from the mission statement: “to serve individuals, families and communities through a wholistic philosophy that is rooted in the belief that human beings are created in the image of God.” Sounds good, right?
My experience there did not reflect those values. From the time I arrived, I dealt with crabby, curt employees who clearly felt harried and overwhelmed. While there were some really wonderful nurses and aides, many seemed bitter and frustrated. My room was near a satellite nurses station, not the main one, but a desk in a tiny alcove just outside my door. I could hear staff arguing and treating each other with sarcasm and disrespect. At one point, they had a big fight because someone didn’t help with distributing meal trays and several of them announced they were all leaving for lunch at the same time and stormed off!
“The disconnect between the advertising message and the reality was striking.”
When I would press the call button, I would wait and wait, with no response. I’m a low-maintenance patient, I really am. One of the nurses said that I was the “easiest on the floor.” But I couldn’t get anyone to bring me something as simple as a pitcher of ice water—my visiting friends would have to go out and look for staff. One time, my boyfriend couldn’t get anyone to help him and he let himself into the kitchen and got ice water himself—only to be scolded by a nurse.
The environment and personnel did not promote rest or healing. It was upsetting to hear the staff bickering (and it was also very unprofessional). I was tense the whole time I was there. My point is not to badmouth the hospital. I realize that hospital staff have tough jobs. But the disconnect between the advertising message and the reality was striking.
The experience made me wonder about us in the women’s organization and the church. Do our actions support what we say in our purpose statement? Do visitors and outsiders experience with us the things we claim are our values? Or do they see infighting and tension, hardheadedness or indifference? Does our behavior belie our message?
What is your experience? Have you visited congregations who posted messages of welcome and hospitality in their bulletins or on their signs, only to find yourself left alone with no one to greet you or ask if you needed assistance? How do we remedy the disconnect in our own groups?
The recuperating Kate Elliott is editor of Gathermagazine.