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Legal Speak

The Best Hospital in America

Published April 3, 2008 11:26 AM by Tony DeWitt

In a few weeks Advance for Respiratory Care Practitioners, the magazine that I started off with in 1988, will be celebrating its 20th year. This made me think back to the times in my life when I was a caregiver and the many different places I worked, including:


  • Mary Lanning Memorial Hospital, Hastings, NE
  • Kirksville Osteopathic Hospital, Kirskville, MO
  • St. Mary's Hospital, West Palm Beach, FL
  • Blessing Hospital, Quincy, IL
  • Mt. Sinai Hospital, Hartford, CT
  • St. Charles Hospital, Oregon, OH; and
  • Vencor Hospital, St. Louis, MO


While I learned many things (both good and bad) at many of these places, two of them are special because they were the places that formed the core of my beliefs about what is both good and bad in the health care professions.

St. Mary's Hospital in West Palm Beach, Florida, was located minutes away from Riviera Beach, a popular spot for tourists and a place where thousands of "snow birds" sought respite from the cold climate up north.  The hospital was a 350 bed facility and it was run by a religious order that cared a great deal about meeting its calling to provide care for the suffering and disenfranchised. 

It was there, as a therapist, that I practiced my very best respiratory care as a clinician. I worked with neonates, attended deliveries, went on transports, worked in the emergency room, and hung out for long stretches in the ICU and CCU. At one time a fellow therapist, a lovely young lady named Victoria Parks, taught me that it was easy to make iced tea in a graduated cylinder, and we frequently walked through the ICU drinking our tea from the same type of receptacles that nurses emptied their Foley bags into. 

We made sure never to leave one in a patient's room, however. We were probably too cute for our own good, but even today that memory makes me smile. But it wasn't all fun and games: Vickie and I worked a lot of 18 hour days in that ICU, and did a lot of good with a lot of people. St. Marys' was the place that made me proud to be a therapist, and I wept like a child when the day came to move on.

Blessing Hospital, in Quincy Illinois, was the hospital I went to after St. Marys, and it was where I learned to be a manager. I had expert tutelage from Harry Wolin, my vice president, and eager assistance from my second-in-command, Rebecca Bean. What made Blessing such a great place to work (other than the two people just mentioned) was its focus on what was good for the patient - not just in terms of medicine. If you wanted to raise the cost for a procedure, you had to justify it, and it had to be approved by a board committee before being implemented. 

The board at the hospital constantly sought to keep health care costs down - a far cry from what many boards do today. Blessing was the best hospital I ever worked for, and probably at that time the best hospital in America. It owed that to a man named Larry Swearingen, who was the CEO and who ran the organization like it was personal to him. It was never just a job to Larry. He cared, and everyone who worked for him knew it.

So here's the legal angle to all of this. Great organizations, that are well managed and encourage the best in performance from their clinicians and staff, these are the facilities that are rarely sued, and even more rarely, will a jury render a verdict against them. This is because juries like people who try to do their best for the patient, even if they might accidentally make an error now and then. I always say the best insurance policy is a good patient relationship, and Blessing proved that over and over again. 

On the plaintiff side of the aisle we say that unless the jury likes your client, they won't help your client. The same is true on the other side. If the jury doesn't dislike the defendant, they are less apt to make a finding against them. When an organization cultivates a culture of excellence like St. Mary's, or a culture of community trust, like Blessing, the payoff is never visible in the balance sheet as a separate line item. But it is very much visible in the bottom line.


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About this Blog

    A.L. "Tony" DeWitt, RRT, CRT, JD, FAARC
    Occupation: Attorney
    Setting: Jefferson City, Mo.
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