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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

The Good Health Care News

For four of the past five days, I've been in and out of Tampa General, USF Health at TGH, and USF Morsani, which actually is at the University of South Florida.  I've been a patient at USF's clinic since the medical school began back in the seventies, so I've watched it (and TGH) grow.  And grow.  And grow.  Sometimes I think of transferring to a less busy and closer medical practice here in East Hillsborough, but I don't think I ever will.  I go to USF Med because its doctors are on the cutting edge of research, and along with TGH, they perform procedures that can't be done elsewhere. 


I've been with my primary physician on the campus of USF for two decades or more and have seen so many improvements.  It's nice to know now that if he sends me to a specialist, he can easily access what they put into my electronic records – and I can, too.  I remember when I had to go to a separate building to fetch written records; I had to cross busy Fletcher Avenue to have blood drawn; and mammograms were done on the opposite side of Fowler Avenue.  It is so convenient now to have everything under one roof at Morsani -- with a free parking garage that isn't nearly as crowded as the toll one at TGH. 


Part of the reason for the former physical divisions at USF was because of personal divisions.  As I recall, doctors at both the orthopedic and the ophthalmology departments once split off and formed private businesses.  Indeed, personal rivalries were so pervasive that one of my neighbors, an African American with a doctorate in nursing, preferred driving the long distance to teach in Gainesville rather than deal with the personalities at the USF College of Nursing.  I introduced her to Betty Castor when Betty still was the elected education commissioner, and after Betty became president of USF, teamwork became the rule.


The Good Health Care News, Part Two


It's clear these days that professionals and paraprofessionals work together for quality.  Sure, it's a little annoying to answer diagnostic questions from an intern prior to seeing the real doc who already knows the answers -- but that is the way that the next generation learns.  I assume that many of these graduates now staff the area's smaller hospitals, and that's good.  I'm also pleased at the tremendous diversity of the student doctors:  I've had almost equal numbers of women and men, blacks and whites and immigrants or at least second-generation immigrants.  Today's assistant to the teaching doctor was a tall guy from India, and I recently had a small woman who wore a hijab.  I also want to congratulate TGH on its wonderfully diverse food court.  If it weren't so incredibly difficult to park, I'd go there regularly for lunch.  


The most important thing, though, is that everyone from the janitorial staff to the most valued physicians at both USF and TGH is polite, helpful, and kind.   Again, I can remember when physicians were mostly old, grumpy men who didn't take me seriously, and when many of the white-uniformed nurses seemed to feel that their most important duty was shushing.  Medicine still was in that mode when I had a miscarriage at Washington's famous Walter Reed Hospital, something that I think could have been prevented if the (entirely male) doctors had paid attention to what I was saying.  And when I got a nearly fatal infection and was close to unconscious, a (female) nurse scolded me for vomiting.


I'm sure that would not happen today.  Maybe it's because I'm older and thus get more respect, but I think it's largely because medical school curriculum has been revised to be truly patient-centered.  And because many more women are physicians, and many more men are nurses, with the result that attitudes have changed, especially attitudes towards female patients.  And also -- let's be honest -- because of lawyers, who have won enough justified lawsuits that the people on the business end of medicine have established protocols to prevent problems.  All the emphasis is on prevention these days, on wellness instead of illness – and that is a total change from the medical world of my youth.


The Not-so-Good News


I was reading the newspaper about midnight when the stent that is in my left eye popped out.  My USF physician for this, a young woman who grew up in Canada and did her residency at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic, said that if this happened, I should not attempt to remove or reinsert it, but should go to TGH.  I decided that I should not drive with this floating object in my eye, and I long ago had decided that Hubby's heart does not need the stress of driving in the crazy mess of TGH traffic patterns, so we called an ambulance.


The guy who answered said "Hillsborough Fire and Rescue," but later it became clear that it was not a Hillsborough County vehicle nor county employees who turned up after almost an hour had passed.  It was AmeriCare, which I gather from its website is a private enterprise contracted with the county.  Indeed, when we finally pulled up at TGH, there were close to a dozen ambulances at the emergency entrance, and only one of them was a county vehicle.


I say "finally pulled up" because I had my eyes closed most of the way, and when the ambulance stopped and I opened them, I could not believe what I saw.  THEE DOLLHOUSE!  Which, as everyone knows, is near I-275's Westshore exit.  From East Hillsborough to TGH by way of Westshore?!  I questioned the attendant, and he muttered something about having problems with their GPS. 


Yet I had talked enough with both of the (very nice, very polite, very professional) EMT guys to know that they have lived in this area for several years and surely should know the fastest routes to TGH.  I'm not blaming these young men, but I would not be surprised if adding unnecessary miles is still another private, for-profit scheme to scam Medicare and me.  We'll see when the bill turns up. 


Beyond that, once we were off the interstate, it became clear that the vehicle's springs long since needed replacement.  It jostled and jumped, even on the relatively smooth downtown streets.  I could feel every link in the Brorein Bridge.  If I had been in pain, the ride would have been excruciating.  There should be regular inspection of these county-contracting vehicles, and they should meet decent standards.  So, friends on the County Commission, please look into this. 


I think it's still another case of someone deciding that anything private is preferable to anything public – which is just false.  TGH itself is proof of that.  Once more, a memory:  I can't recall the name of the guy who briefly was head of TGH and did his best to hold a fire sale of the hospital.  He argued, contradictorily, that it was nearly bankrupt and so should be sold as soon as possible – to a corporation that, unlike any other corporation, apparently did not intend to make a profit.  Now that I think about it, this may well have been when Rick Scott was ripping off Medicare as head of Hospital Corporation of America. 


I could look that up, but I'm not going to bother.  Instead, I remember that Hubby and I joined with our eminent Pat Frank, the late Jan Platt, the late Bob Gilder, and about a hundred other people on Bayshore at nightfall.  We held candles and marched across the Davis Island Bridge in a vigil/protest against selling our longtime public hospital.  Smarter, less selfish heads prevailed and the bad guy moved on – and now Tampa General Hospital is one of the nation's top facilities.  We've come a long way from 1887, when Merobe Hooker Crane and other women began Emergency Hospital to deal with a yellow fever epidemic that killed ten percent of Tampa's population.  But that's another column.



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