Advocates in Atlanta Have a Vision for Better Care

Jesse Connolly, Campaign Director, Campaign for Better Care

Last week, I traveled to Atlanta for a roundtable discussion with patients, health care providers and consumer advocates, organized by our colleagues at the Georgia Campaign for Better Care.  Dr. Don Berwick, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), brought a national perspective and a distinguished health care background to the panel.  But another panelist, Yolanda Chancellor, brought something that was, in its way, even more powerful:  a handful of newspaper clippings.

A retired government administrator, Yolanda began clipping death notices from newspapers in 1999 when her grandmother Rosa died of a hospital-acquired infection. In the years that followed, Yolanda has clipped and saved the notices every time she lost another friend or loved one because of poorly-coordinated care, hospital-acquired infections and other adverse medical experiences.  Yolanda told the roundtable’s 100-plus participants that she has collected 15 death notices – so far. When she shared the clippings with Dr. Berwick as they spoke at the event’s conclusion, it was a powerful reminder of the importance of our work to coordinate and improve health care.

As Dr. Berwick told the gathering, “Despite efforts, millions of people get hurt every year in the health care system and the good people – the doctors and nurses – they get trapped in flawed systems.  What we know is that the burden is not inevitable; we know how to eliminate injures of that type.  The way to do that is to improve the systems of care that allow the doctors, the nurses, the pharmacists, and the others to do what they really desperately want to do which is give care safely.  Blame and accusation are not the answers; teamwork, improvement, and optimism – they are.”

To further this work, CMS has launched an initiative that we at the Campaign for Better Care strongly support – the Partnership for Patients: Better Care, Lower Costs. This new public-private partnership is designed to help improve the quality, safety and affordability of health care for all Americans.  It emphasizes bringing patient advocates together with leaders of major hospitals, employers, physicians, nurses and state and federal government officials to make hospital care safer, more reliable and less costly.

The Campaign for Better Care, working with the Partnership for Patients, aims to ensure that patients and their family caregivers receive better-coordinated, high quality care so that what happened to Yolanda never happens to another patient or caregiver.

Joining Yolanda and Dr. Berwick on the panel were six articulate local advocates and providers, and each had a lot to contribute.  They were:

  • Helen Butler, Executive Director, Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda;
  • Chaiwon Kim, CEO / President, Center for Pan Asian Community Services;
  • Holly Lang, Hospital Accountability Project Director, Georgia Watch;
  • Ted Johnson, Director, Woodruff Health Sciences Center, Center for Health in Aging, Wesley Woods Center of Emory University; Division Director, Geriatric Medicine & Gerontology; and Professor of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine;
  • Adrienne Mims, Medical Director, Medicare Quality Improvement, Georgia Medical Care Foundation; and
  • Nancy Morrison, Program Director, Sixty Plus Older Adult Services at Piedmont Hospital.

At the Campaign for Better Care, we know that vulnerable patients with multiple health problems are the ones who suffer the most when health care is not high quality, well-coordinated and patient-centered.   Making sure that patients are included in the discussion about how to improve care, as we did at the Atlanta roundtable, is a step in the right direction.  We intend to keep working to ensure that patients are included in all these discussions and that better care soon becomes reality, rather than a goal.

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