Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cleveland’s University Hospital: Like Rats in a Maze

Earlier this week, my husband and I visited Cleveland Ohio’s University Hospital in University Circle. My husband had to visit a specialist regarding a minor medical problem. While I love the University Circle area (I wrote about it before on my Cleveland blog, here), I also knew that it’s easy to get lost in the area. And with the Euclid Corridor project (US Route 20) still in progress in that area, I also knew that we were in for a bit of a traffic mess just getting there. I also knew that, after having to accompany a family member to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital two years ago, navigating the complex is like being a rat in a maze.

It lived up to all my expectations.

The Euclid Corridor project had Euclid Avenue torn up, leaving minimal lanes. But we got through it OK, parked the car in one of the hospital’s parking garages, and made our way to the University Hospital complex.

That’s when things too a turn for the worse.

If you’re familiar with the book Dante’s Inferno, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that finding our way to the specialist’s office was like descending into each layer of the Nine Circles of Hell. Each corridor took us down another corridor, and another, and so on, with only minimal signage to help us understand where we were going. With each turn, we felt as if we were getting pulled further and further into a hopeless, hellish maze that we could never escape. There was a large reception desk at the end of the first corridor as you enter the complex from the parking garage, but it wasn’t staffed. Instead, in its place, was a stuffed animal – a near life size penguin. Of course, the penguin wasn’t much help when we asked for directions.

We were somewhat more hopeful when we finally found our way to the central atrium, which had street signs making the way. But, when we followed the signs to get to the building where we needed to be, we were faced with even more corridors. Finally finding our way to the main lobby of the Lakeside building, we found our doctor’s room number and headed to the elevators. The problem was, we found, that we couldn’t get to our doctor using those particular elevators, we had to use another set which were hidden down another long corridor. I am glad we planned a lot of extra time for the trip because it took us nearly a half hour to get from our car to our doctor.

My disappointment with the University Hospital system at University Circle isn’t about the quality of care. Far from it. Along with University Hospital, Cleveland has the Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Metro, and the area is well known around the world for excellent health care. My problem with University is that for someone who is very ill and visiting the area for the first time, the confusing layout and lack of help finding one’s way can only add to the stress the sick person may already be experiencing. My husband and I are both in our early 50s and in excellent health, and we found the whole process very taxing. I could tell that my husband was getting very frustrated at the whole thing and his blood pressure was probably raised quite a bit. I was getting a little panicky because I felt like I couldn’t find my way out. Since we’re both healthy these stresses weren’t cause for concern, but for someone who is suffering from a major illness, this experience certainly would not make them much better.

Not once did we see a sign that said, “You are here” or anything to help us get our bearings. It was difficult, if not impossible, to find a live person who could give us some help. We were lucky that there were two employees who saw we were lost and attempted to help. Unfortunately, they both gave us incomplete directions.

My suggestion to University Hospitals – or any large hospital for that matter – is to make sure that patients and visitors have many options to get help to find their way. “You are here” signs, and receptions desks that are staffed are a must. Prior to my husband’s appointment, he received directions from the specialist’s office that told him how to get the hospital; it should have included how to get to his OFFICE once we arrived. In this day and age of internet access, it would be even more helpful for a hospital complex to have on-line access to directions within the complex so visitors can get a feel for where they are going before they get there. Anything to help someone who is ill, or visitors to those people, find their way to their destination without stress should reduce the stress of the illness itself.

One things is for sure, if you plan a trip to this complex and don’t have detailed information in advance, make sure you bring a loaf of bread with you. You’ll need it to leave a trail of breadcrumbs.

Check out my blog home page for the latest information, here.

No comments: