A closer look at the little CHOMP stories that have led to a big 75 year anniversary.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Architect Edward Durell Stone built Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP) atop a parcel of prime Del Monte Forest land donated by Samuel F.B Morse as a “hospital that wouldn’t look like a hospital.”
In the storied history of CHOMP – which began on Oct. 19, 1934 as the Peninsula Community Hospital in Carmel three quarters of a century ago this Monday – it has transcended what people can reasonably expect from a hospital in far more than aesthetics.
Not that they aren’t breathtaking: The tranquility of the white flooring and walls adorned with their signature “CHOMP squares,” the floor-to-ceiling windows and open architecture, the reams of art throughout the building, the outdoor waterfall in the healing garden – it all conspires to create a sense of peace and healing. And there are moments when it’s sorely needed.
Near the enormous reflecting fountain stocked with koi fish, in the courtyard of a main lobby showered by sunlight from the dome above, sits Beth Donnelly, the employee involvement specialist for the Community Hospital Improvement Plan (CHIP) and a 28-year CHOMP veteran. In 1981 she began work as a unit receptionist at Garden North. One night, while she was at the desk alone, a woman in a gown and slippers appeared, her feet covered in blood: A carotid artery had ruptured after surgery, pouring blood down her body and spilling all over the white floor.
Donnelly called out for help. “Everyone jumped to action,” she says. “One man – an orderly, maybe – held her neck to control the bleeding until she was transported to the emergency room. When he came back down, his hand was shaking.”
The woman survived. She came to the desk days later, demanding her gown and slippers, which had been discarded because they were soaked in blood. That didn’t sit well with the woman, but maybe she could be forgiven for her impatience: She remembered nothing of the incident.
General surgeon Dr. Mark Vierra, a Harvard Medical School grad, remembers a young woman who went to another hospital where she was diagnosed with gallstones.
“She was prescribed meds,” he says, “put on a diet, was off work for one month. She lost her job and lost her insurance. She tried to get personal insurance, but was denied coverage because of her pre-existing condition – the gallstones.”
Only, it wasn’t gallstones.
The continuing pain brought her to CHOMP, where she was diagnosed with an obstructing rectal cancer, which had spread to her liver, and a rare condition called familial polyposis. Without insurance, says Dr. Vierra, “no hospital would touch her.”
But CHOMP was different. He removed her colon and removed the cancer from her liver, with help from a “world class” gastroenterologist.
“We compensate for a terribly inadequate, broken [health-care] system,” he says. “If she had killed someone and gone to prison, she would have full medical.”
Currently, the young woman is back at home, preparing to undergo chemotherapy. When does that start? “Today,” says Dr. Vierra.
Nutrition Services Chef Lance Chambers, who’s logged 38 years at CHOMP, draws satisfaction from seeing patients eat his surprisingly savory dishes, like sole stuffed with crab, smoked salmon and prime rib. “Sometimes it’s the little things that really matter to people,” he says. “Like the waterfall, or a beautiful tray of food.”
Or a simpler one.
Janice Harrell, a 28-year employee and current Director of Nutrition Services, recalls a special meal Chambers navigated a small gauntlet of modern-day regulations to help prepare.
“We had a terminally-ill person at Westland House,” she says, referring to a facility that houses skilled nursing and hospice care. “He had a son – a professional chef – who wanted to prepare a last meal for his father. Lance came and met with the man and they worked together to feed him his last meal. Those stories happen a lot.”
Chef Chambers recalls, “It wasn’t a difficult [meal]. Broiled chicken. A family dish.”
Historic moments arrive with regularity over the decades: the first man allowed in the delivery room (1962), the founding of the model Maurine Church Coburn School of Nursing at MPC (1977), the opening of the Comprehensive Cancer Center (1999), the landmark Breast Care Center (2002) and the ICU-housing South Pavilion (2006). But it’s these everyday stories – of life and death, quick rescues and small kindnesses – that march throughout without halt. CHOMP could re-patent an oxymoron on a daily basis: little miracles.
Last week, a woman here with pancreatic cancer was given a chance to hold her newborn grandchild, who arrived a week late. The first-time grandmother passed less than a week later.
One woman here on vacation with her husband and son suffered a massive blood clot in her brain and an aneurism in her neck. The time from her arrival at CHOMP to her discharge, with slight numbness in one calf: four days.
“It’s everyone doing their part,” says registered nurse Laura Hodge, who’s helping to usher in a Primary Stroke Center, up for certification at the end of the month. She chokes back tears. “It changes someone’s life.”
Some of the minor miracles – including the record retention rates – can be credited to the breakthroughs of the 1991 Community Hospital Improvement Program, or CHIP, where employees submit suggestions on ways to improve patient care, costs and hospital procedures. Some 4,000 have been implemented, including hundreds related to care.
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Ultimately, though, few workers here seem ready to indulge in reflection. They live in the moment. They plan for the future.
They describe how they get away from it all on rafting trips (“If you’re going to [risk drowning],” says one employee, “that’s a good group to be with”), or they hire a mariachi band to play in the cafeteria, or throw a party with cancer patients and shave the hair from any who will stand in solidarity with those who’ve lost theirs involuntarily.
Maybe the accumulation of all the medicine and caring, the pain of loss, are too much to ponder for long. Besides, there’s tomorrow, there’s the next patient, there are improvements to be made. There’s work to be done.