Up Front: March 2011

The heart of health care

This, our annual look at the state’s best hospitals, has always been a popular issue with both readers and advertisers, which is not surprising considering health care’s importance not only as a business but its impact as an industry on the overall economy. But, personally, I’ve had my fill of hospitals lately.

Back in June, my wife broke her ankle, a mishap followed by four operations within six months. (Infection settled on the metal screws and plate that were used to set the shattered bone.) Having undergone back and knee surgery in recent years, I was no stranger to what goes on inside a hospital. But as an observer rather than being on the receiving end, it occurred to me that, though the ego of some doctors could fill even the most massive medical center, these places actually are run — in execution if not in the actual administration — by their nurses.

Last year, Senior Contributing Editor Ed Martin gave readers an inside look at what happens when the chief executive of a hospital finds himself at odds with his medical staff (cover story, April 2010). Since then, a doctor has been hired as CEO of that hospital and its health system, Mission in Asheville. What would it be like, I wondered, for someone who had trained and worked as a nurse to take on such a job? I didn’t have to wonder long, and neither will you, thanks to the story that Ed has done on the woman who runs CaroMont Health Inc. in Gastonia. It begins on page 58.

Ed, who has won numerous awards for his medical writing in this and other publications, confesses he didn’t come to the topic with a totally objective frame of mind. “I’ve got more experience with nurses — female and male ­— than I’d rather have, after two major surgeries,” he says. (For his accounts of both, see the cover stories that appeared in our December 2001 and July 2008 issues.)

“There must be bad nurses, but I’ve never had one. Nurses are the human, emotional link in medicine, touching the patient physically and emotionally more than anybody else. Doctors palpate; nurses put the tubes in. Doctors move on; nurses are there 12 hours, smelling the sickness, listening to the screams of pain and the whimpers of fright. Doctors order nasty things that hurt; nurses are left to carry out the orders. “I’m not surprised patients, in a weird variant of the Stockholm Syndrome, fall in love with their nurses. They’re the front line of medicine.”