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Waiting for admission to Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is a more pleasant experience because of a customer service initiative called "Enhanced Waiting Through Courtesy, Comfort, and Care," says Paula Shackelford, RN, MSA, director of admissions and new-patient registration.
The program, funded by a $2,000 grant from the hospital’s volunteer endowment for patient support, is one example of the organization’s commitment to customer service, Shackelford says.
The department went through an application process before being awarded the grant, which is used to make patients — many of whom are weak and ill from cancer and the side effects of chemotherapy — more comfortable as they wait to be placed in a room, she notes. Wait times can be long, Shackelford explains, because of the hospital’s high occupancy rate and complex bed control issues.
The grant was used to buy a refrigerator, and to provide soft drinks, coffee, juices, Jell-O, and other items for waiting patients, she says, as well as supplies like pillows, blankets, and ice packs. "We also have meal tickets, but a lot of patients don’t want to leave the admissions area," Shackelford adds.
"It’s also nice for staff," she points out. "They feel so frustrated, having to keep going back and saying, It won’t be long.’ Now they have something tangible to offer as well."
When a patient has a particularly long wait, or experiences a complication in the admission process, a staff member prepares a handwritten card and encloses a silk rose and a business card, Shackelford adds. "They take it up to the patient’s room later that day — or the next day — to say they’re sorry for whatever happened. It’s all part of the same program. We used some of the money to buy the flowers."
Another activity that helps boost the morale of staff as well as patients is the department’s observation of holidays, she says. "For every holiday, even the minor ones, we decorate our lobby. We make up little packages, and everybody that comes to be preregistered or admitted gets a package and a card that says something about the holiday, wishing them well."
That practice is paid for with another fund, one that began Shackelford purchased a big, stuffed rabbit, raffled it off after the Easter holiday, and used the money to buy for the next holiday.
"We reuse the money over and over again, and we also have a piggy bank in the department," she says. "We do a lot of little things that may seem silly or unimportant, but it helps because it’s not just the everyday [routine]; it’s something a little different."
[Paula Shackelford can be reached at (713) 745-0038 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.]