HAVING SPENT NIGHTS and days in hospitals with my family members, I figured I knew how things work in there. I also believed complaints get you nowhere, since the staff is stretched so thin.
Truth is I knew almost nothing. Last week, Patti Haught of Olympic Medical Center schooled me — gently. Head of the Patient Experience Department, she was patient enough to tell me all about her life.
The interview started out stilted, with a lot of general talk about how “engaged” the community is; in other words, OMC patients are vociferous in their feedback for their healthcare providers.
But then, as the conversation progressed, the “uh-oh, I’m talking to a reporter” shield melted away.
Haught was just 16 when she began her profession as a healer. Growing up in the Yakima Valley, she would become the first in her family to graduate high school. She worked as a certified nursing assistant in a nursing home.
“That is what ignited my passion for advocacy,” Haught told me. She later worked with people with developmental disabilities. Then came a job in home health at OMC and, 10 years ago this month, the position she holds today. While working, she earned a bachelor’s degree through Peninsula College and her certification as a patient experience professional.
Looking in from the outside, Haught’s job looks like one that would wear me down. Coordinating investigations of complaints; reporting on them to department heads and the hospital board of commissioners; absorbing all manner of problems befalling people in the hospital or in OMC’s many clinics. And now in the COVID era, the no-visitor policy is added to the stack.
Fortunately for us, Haught is made for this work. She considers it a gift to be able to make a difference in patients’ lives, to be there to support a fellow human in the midst of a terrible time.
Haught has also spoken up for the value of her profession. She’s brought on four more patient experience specialists, advocates there for patients and their families in the OMC emergency room, making rounds in the hospital, checking in with people to ask what they need.
Sometimes it’s another blanket or a pair of earplugs. Often it’s someone to talk to.
“One of our favorite things to do,” Haught said, “is make that in-person connection.”
These days, she and her team provide tablet computers so patients can have video calls or Zoom get-togethers with family who can’t visit.
“There are certain situations where being able to put your eyes on your loved one is really important,” Haught said.
For her, a complaint from a patient is another opportunity to stand up for that person, to be his or her voice in management’s ear.
Haught is no Pollyanna, I’m happy to report. The pandemic of 2020 “is a really challenging and frightening time for everyone,” she said.
“There are a lot of retired couples and people who retired to this area alone who can’t do the things they used to: breakfast with friends, going to senior centers.
“My heart goes out. And when you think about the financial insecurity, that makes us all really worried for our neighbors. There’s been no other period of time in my lifetime that has been this difficult.”
Haught’s ability to connect with people, to listen to and go to bat for them, is a powerful force in the relief of suffering. Hospitals and people are imperfect, yes. Haught focuses instead on the progress, the everyday conversations. She turns patients, providers and family members back into humans.
This, she said, is “a dream position.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz is a senior reporter in Jefferson County. Her column runs the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will appear Dec. 16. Reach her at [email protected].