In the Patient's and Family's Voice
Maureen Fagan, DNP, MHA, and Celene Wong, Center for Patients and Families
Jenifer Walsh is a family advisor on the BWH Cardiovascular Patient and Family Advisory Council. In February 2010, her husband, Paul, suffered heart failure causing him to have several strokes and remain at BWH for six weeks in a coma. During his hospitalization, Jenifer remained by his side, so it didn't take long for her to learn how the nurses interacted with one another during nursing hand-offs.
On her first day, Jenifer admits she was very frightened for her husband. However, she was also comforted by the great deal of personal attention and excellent nursing care Paul was receiving.
"I was getting to know and trust his nurse, and I knew instinctively he was in good hands," Jenifer recalls.
But when the nurse told Jenifer her shift was ending and a new nurse was coming in to take care of Paul, Jenifer was suddenly nervous.
"I remember having a moment of panic," she said. "All I could think was, ‘You can't leave! Who else could possibly give Paul the excellent care you have shown? This new nurse doesn't know anything about him.'"
Jenifer was concerned and frightened about whether the next nurse was going to be able to take care of her husband. Then, she observed Paul's nurse give her report to the incoming nurse at his bedside. She noted how the nurses seemed "relaxed and respectful of each other." She could hear questions about medications clarified, recommendations on how to position him and information about how his day went being passed on. Jenifer quickly noticed a professional collaboration among the nursing staff.
After the report, Jenifer realized that the nurses had a good camaraderie and that they seemed to take pride in the care of their patients. She even remembers a few weeks into the ordeal, seeing these nurses have lunch together in the cafeteria and thinking that "there is no disconnect among them, as they spend their off time together, too."
Witnessing this simple hand-off report at her gravely sick husband's bedside provided Jenifer with tremendous comfort during a very difficult time in her life. She felt at ease knowing that the nurses on the floor would take good care of her husband. Over the weeks, she developed a good rapport with several of the nurses. This helped her keep her focus clear on her husband's serious condition.
"I learned on that very first day, that staff at this hospital provide compassionate care for patients and also take care of patients' family members," she said.
Paul has since recovered and has visited several of the nurses who cared for him. He also serves as a member of the Cardiovascular Patient and Family Advisory Council. Through the council, the Walshes are helping to improve care for future patients and families by sharing reflections on their own experiences, including what made the care outstanding as well as what can be better. For more information on involving patients or family members in your area, please contact the Center for Patients and Families.