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HEALTHCARE TODAY – A PERSONAL ACCOUNT

The following letter was sent via Priority Mail to the CEO of Reston Hospital Center on March 19, 2021. It catalogs my experience at the Hospital over a 30-day period. 

I received a response from the VP of Quality at the hospital dated May 9th containing various platitudes. For example, the VP says: “We are sorry if you felt that the care you received did not meet your expectations” and “[t]he process to release your complete or other requested sections of your “Protected Health Information” is on our website”. 

My response to the VP follows the letter to the CEO.

After that threatening letter was sent, I received my medical file — all 1552 pages of it.

John Deardorff, President and CEO

Reston Hospital Center
1850 Town Center Pkwy
Reston, VA 20190

March 19, 2021

Dear Mr. Deardorff, 

As a former business executive, I prefer not to be writing this letter. But it seems that almost every day I have a mind-boggling experience associated with Reston Hospital Center. I would hope that you would take this note as an incentive to assess the current capabilities and practices of your hospital and take remedial action where necessary.

As background, I am a white male, 67 years old, diagnosed with Parkinson Disease 19 years ago, and owner of a bad lower back. Since retiring after the PD diagnosis, I had done plenty of back exercises so I had been able to play golf and shoot basketball.

In November, I was running home with my dog and he ran in my path. I tripped and fell on my head and three days later I was admitted to Reston Hospital Center.

I do not remember arriving at the hospital. In fact, I don’t remember the first 11 days in the hospital including the three brain surgeries that had taken place. When I became conscious of my surroundings, I realized that I had lost vision in my right eye.

I was not briefed by anyone on what operations had occurred or why. I was treated as a failed patient who was about to die. The reaction to my lost vision was that it was somebody else’s responsibility. It seemed that it took almost a week for somebody to address my eye.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I was bedridden and had frequent accidents. In many cases, the nurses would literally flip me over to change the sheets despite my objections and my screams of pain. A comparison of MRIs before and after my hospital stay shows significant additional damage to my lower back.

After a week or so of the third operation, I began physical therapy. On at least 20 occasions at the hospital and the rehab center, I explained the relationship between Parkinson’s disease and the ability to rehabilitate. In the morning, Sinemet needs to arrive an hour before breakfast and exercise needs to come in a window 1-4 hours after receiving the medication. Getting a dose 4 times a day is in spec, but getting Sinemet in the middle of the night is worthless. Moreover, the intensity of PD symptoms varies from day-to-day so the patient needs to be able to supplement the standard dose on occasion. Over the entire period of my 35-day stay at the hospital and rehab center, I was able to improve only minimally because this juxtaposition of eating, taking medications, and exercising was never addressed. 

I insisted on leaving the rehab center a week before the staff recommended. At home, I was up and about within a week. The home health care nurse told me that I had been labelled as a high risk of return. In fact, my wife tells me that no one at the hospital would answer her question of whether I would ever walk again (which I have been doing for a month now without a cane). I do have edema, which has gone untreated. 

I received an assortment of bills, one of which was for $327,000 or thereabouts. I still had not received any information about my stay at the hospital and the bill might have well been in written in Greek because it had no meaning to me. About a month later, I received a bill for a few thousand dollars from somebody who claimed to be my surgeon. I think he did one of the three operations, although I’m guessing about that. I felt I deserved an explanation of his performance so I called his office. His executive secretary said that she had no files on me, but that she would talk to the doctor and that I should call her the following week. I called back the following week, and I was told the nurse would be calling me. She never called.

I then attempted to get my records from the hospital. I filled out the hospital’s form and mailed it. Three weeks later I called to get the status, and I was told that there was no record of my request. I then refiled the request again using the hospital’s form for record retrieval.

I recently received a rejection letter because “We have been unable to locate a record for the above-named patient”. The letter was entitled: “Patient Not Found” in bold print.

I get the feeling that the hospital is avoiding me because it is concerned about possible litigation related to my eye. If that were true, it would be unfortunate. There should be a no-fault insurance policy in place for unexpected events.

Separate from the above administrative issues, I could spend pages describing the lack of good management and leadership practices at the hospital. Also, your use of technology is behind the current capabilities and the communications system is poor, including a heavy reliance on fax which was a “thing” back in the 1970’s.

I’d like to say something positive about my stay, but these experiences so taint my opinion, that it is hard to do so. For every doctor’s office visit, I get asked “what did the surgeon say about this?” or “what did the hospital say about that?” All I can do is to shrug my shoulders. The neuro-ophthalmologist asked: “what the hell happened here?”. I don’t think he expected an answer from me.

There are many areas in need of improvement at the hospital. If I were forced to pick one place to start, I would assign an overall owner to each patient who would coordinate all activities related to that person and feel the responsibility of that person’s overall care. I would also have a separate wing for patients with more than one significant ailment because they require more specialized care.

Finally, it doesn’t make sense to me that the cost of my stay would be well over $300,000 when the cost of the surgeon was only a few thousand dollars.

Best of luck. I don’t envy you.

Sincerely,

Steve

May 16, 2021

Ruth E. Loncar, Vice President / Quality

Reston Hospital Center

1850 Town Center Parkway

Reston, VA 20190

Dear Ms. Loncar:

Your response to my letter of March 19, 2021 noted that I had experienced difficulty obtaining my medical records. To be more specific, I failed to get my medical records on two separate attempts despite following the Hospital’s procedures. More concerning, I explained that the Hospital had rejected my second request because my records “were not found”.

However, your letter states my medical records were reviewed by you and several other people at the hospital. Therefore, my medical records must exist somewhere on the Hospital grounds.

HIPAA gives patients the right to get copies of all of their medical records. This is federal law with penalties for any violations, including fines up to $50,000 per day.

Yet, no one in the hospital’s senior leadership, the hospital’s administration nor you saw fit to send me my medical records – even though you say that these executives were reviewing my records and had seen my letter.

Your letter says: “If you have not received the medical record of your stay at Reston Hospital, please let me know, so I can assist you”. I don’t understand how you can say this if you read my letter. 

To be blunt, this is now the fourth time that I am requesting my medical records. No, I have not received them.

I have also explained that I had tried twice to get information from the surgeon to no avail. 

The VP of Quality should be able to have my records sent to me by invoking the requirements of the HIPPA regulations. As your letter states: “we want our patients to always receive the highest quality and compassionate care possible”. Assuming that this ethic has any meaning as opposed to being just another canned response to a patient letter, I am looking forward to receiving my medical records in the near future.

Sincerely.

Steven Zecola

1 Thorton Ct.

Potomac Falls, VA 20165

 cc: John Deardorff, President and CEO