Dear major medical institute,
You are a leading industry healthcare company. Your nonprofit/academic-based practice is commendable. The 60,000 employees you put to work every day to help people like myself – common human beings who are unwell – and the physicians, scientists, and researchers you arm with the resources they need to make advances in the medical space is extraordinary. I am so so thankful institutions like yours exist, and I can’t begin to imagine the number of individuals you have helped in your 127 years of existence.
The city that I live in, Jacksonville, has few, quality resources for someone battling what I am battling: a mental illness. There are rehab facilities, treatment centers, and stand-alone counselors, psychiatrists, and therapists who can refer you to one place or the next… but in terms of one, central center that can approach my mental health from all aspects of my life – you, and the two other major medical institutes in my city, are my only options.
I am thankful for institutions like yours. Which is why my experience with your Jacksonville location has left me surprised, and at this point, a little lost on what to do next.
Going to your facility took a tremendous amount of courage and vulnerability. As someone who has struggled with her mental health her entire life, but didn’t always want to admit it, walking through your doors, sitting in your offices, and meeting with one of your doctors left me so anxious the week leading up to it I could barely function. It took even more courage to discuss the state of my “mind, body, and spirit” as prompted by one of your doctors, at which point I revealed the intimidate details of my thought processes, self-care regimens, and religious beliefs I felt he wanted me to discuss in order to optimize and streamline my options.
Major medical institute – your doctor not only failed me when he assigned questions and stipulations to my religious beliefs and understanding of life – he failed you. He took your facility from being a compassionate, inclusive, diverse and welcoming establishment, to one I am not sure I would ever be comfortable visiting again.
As soon as he questioned the validity of my religious beliefs and lifestyle, there was nothing about my body language that signaled to this doctor I was comfortable continuing the conversation with him. There was nothing about my shaking voice or watering eyes that cued to him that his remarks were meaningful or helpful towards the reason for my visit. I have learned throughout my 27 years that there are some men in authority (and women, too, I suppose,) that seem to grow bolder when sensing unease and discomfort on a woman’s face. But I never thought this situation would transpire between a doctor and patient – where he already had the upper hand by being the only medically trained professional in the room, and myself desperately needing medical advice.
What’s worse, I imagined a less stereotypical female patient (I’m as bland as they come, and very definition of the word “privileged,” for the most part,) sitting in his presence – a transgender, or lesbian woman – talking through their intimate views on life and sense of purpose, and the response they would have gotten from him.
Major medical institute – those of us that walk this earth not born with perfect mental health – aka, the majority of us – need to be encouraged and armed when we do take the steps to seek help for our struggles. We need to be shown compassion, an understanding that what we are battling is just as hard as other stereotypical “serious” health failings. We need to be shown partnership, an arm around our shoulders, a joint-approach – doctor, and patient – diagnosing and troubleshooting our struggles together.
Major medical institute – we need to be shown respect, an acknowledgement that we are sitting in front of one of your doctors because we either WANT or NEED to be, because we have been told we deserve a higher quality of life than what we were given, and because we want (more desperately than we could ever express) to figure out how to give that to ourselves with your help. We need to be given confidence, to be shown that our intuitions, gut feelings, and beliefs that guide our hearts are tools we can use to our advantage – keys to getting to know ourselves better, which can only help us better understand our mental struggles.
Major medical institute – if you are not allowing patients to request to transfer primary care doctors unless there are “extenuating circumstances,” please make sure your employees communicating this information to your patients do so in a caring manner. You have no idea how hard it was for us to be so vulnerable to one of your doctors the first time around. I promise for us to even call and request to go through the process again could only be because of extenuating circumstances.
Major medical institute – if one of your patients takes the time to explain these extenuating circumstances, and why we are not comfortable seeing one of your doctors again, please apologize and state you are sorry we were not satisfied with the care we received, and that our health and well being is your highest priority.
Major medical institute – if it requires a supervisor to approve of a patient transferring to a different primary care provider, please make them feel like their case will be a priority and of importance to the supervisor. If the supervisor is away on vacation or not available, that’s okay! But please then tell them when she will be back and when patients can be expected to be contacted (for example, “within 5 business days.”)
Major medical institute – if it’s been 10 days since a transfer request was made, and 5 since the supervisor returned from her vacation, and you still have not contacted the patient so they decide to call for a status update, please, PLEASE do not tell them that they just have to “sit tight” and that there’s “nothing” you can do for them in the meantime.” Please do not tell them that “you’re really busy with trainings right now.” Please do not make them feel that their health and well-being means less to your institute than the other daily functions your staff has to oversee.
Major medical institute- you are a leading industry medical provider, and as such, have the unique opportunity to provide care to a subset of the health community that historically, has not had a voice or presence. Your employees have the unique opportunity to be a part of our journey to “betterment,” with their every interaction having the potential to further push and encourage us forward. Your walls have the unique opportunity to be a safe space for us, one where we can express our beliefs and foundations, and learn how to use these attributes about ourselves to strengthen our understanding of our mental struggles and health.
Major medical institute – you have failed one of your patients, which leads me to believe you could fail more, and the community I belong to – the mental health community – cannot afford more failure.
Major medical institute – this experience would have led to the end of some of my community’s search for mental betterment. This experience would have told them what they already fear on a daily basis – that there is nothing anyone can do for them, that there is nothing they can do for themselves. This experience would have delayed their progress towards their mental health well being – the degree of detriment varying based on where they were in their mental struggles when they came to you.
I am still early-enough-on in my mental illness to see clearly where this experience went wrong, and where it could have been corrected, which gives me the hope I need to continue pursuing my mental betterment. Not all of my fellow community members would have been so lucky.
Major medical institute – please do better for and by the mental health community. We need you more than we can say.
– Baileigh Johnson, 27, generalized anxiety disorder, former struggles with depression and eating disorder