Care like family: five patient experience moments that will move you

Committed. Compassionate. Connected. Patient Experience Week.

Amid HCA Healthcare’s more than 37 million annual patient encounters are special moments — moments of connection and compassion, and moments that show how our colleagues care for our patients like family. Those moments are the heartbeat of HCA Healthcare, and we are proud to share them during the Beryl Institute’s Patient Experience Week – celebrated April 23-29, 2023.

The Beryl Institute, a global community of healthcare professionals, launched Patient Experience Week in 2014 to celebrate and recognize the frontline caregivers working every day to provide the best possible experience for their patients. HCA Healthcare’s approximately 294,000 colleagues show up daily, ready to deliver high-quality care to patients during every interaction.

Our colleagues’ commitment does not go unnoticed. Year after year, our hospitals are recognized by independent organizations for providing patient-centered, high-quality healthcare. This past year, Press Ganey recognized 32 HCA Hospitals in their 2022 Human Experience Awards for exemplifying their Compassionate, Connected Care (CCC) model. Press Ganey’s CCC model acts as a framework for our patient strategy to ensure optimal patient experience.

Both compassion and high-quality clinical care are essential to patient experience, but the third piece — connection — is what truly makes a difference in healthcare. Below are five stories that demonstrate how HCA Healthcare colleagues not only show compassion and provide quality care, but truly connect with our patients in a lasting, meaningful way.

A moment of wonder

Pensacola Blue Wahoos team smiling for picture with a young fan holding a jersey.
HCA Healthcare nurse Shelia Gargano helped to organize a memorable experience for pediatric patient, Gunnar Chester, and the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, a Minor League Baseball team in summer 2022.
HCA Healthcare patient showing off his prosthetic leg to his nurse.
Gunner Chester, pediatric patient who spent time in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at HCA Florida West Hospital, returned to the facility in December 2022 to show off his new prosthetic legs to Pediatric Nurse Manager Shelia Gargano.

Pediatric Nurse Manager Shelia Gargano is known for going above and beyond for her patients at HCA Florida West Hospital in Pensacola, Florida. However, one particular act of kindness was a home run in the eyes of a special young patient.

During baseball season, Shelia arranged for the local Minor League Baseball team, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, to visit her unit. During the team’s hospital trip, young patients decorated jerseys that the team would go on to wear in an upcoming game.

One patient, Gunnar Chester, was starstruck by the players as they made the atmosphere fun and offered words of encouragement.

Gunnar, a double amputee who has had over 18 surgeries, was thrilled to meet the team and told Shelia he couldn’t believe they had come to visit him. After all, he had never been to a baseball game before.

Knowing the joy baseball brought Gunnar, Sheila again reached out to the Blue Wahoos, this time helping to coordinate a day at the ballpark for Gunnar and his family.

The team surprised him with an autographed jersey, a team baseball bat, many other souvenirs and the opportunity to ceremoniously kick off the post-game firework show from the top of the dugout.

Gunnar and his family returned to HCA Florida West Hospital during Christmastime to deliver gifts and messages of hope to other kids in the pediatric wing. The visit also allowed Gunnar to show off his new prosthetic legs to his care team as well.

A moment of love

HCA Healthcare stroke patient in a wheelchair holding the hand of his bride at a hospital wedding ceremony.
In 2022, HCA Healthcare patient Keith Smith and his fiancé Titilayo said “I do” in front of their loved ones and caregivers at HCA Houston Healthcare Mainland.

Just days before Keith and Titilayo Smith were due to wed, Keith sought emergency medical care for a stroke at HCA Houston Healthcare Mainland in Texas City, Texas. Friends and family from around the country were already on their way to see the two college sweethearts finally tie the knot after years apart.

Their priority became Keith’s safe and healthy recovery, which meant he would not be released before their wedding date. Determined to have the wedding of their dreams, a plan was set in motion by his caregivers.

“Once we heard the story and we knew that he wasn’t able to go home — we knew it was up to us to help [Keith and] Titilayo pull this off,” said Mary Ann Jones, nurse leader at HCA Houston Healthcare Mainland.

Keith’s rehabilitation care team became part-time wedding planners, helping arrange a very special hospital ceremony and reception with the couple’s friends and family on their original wedding date. Later, Keith was released and sent home to recover as a married man.

“I will have a spot in my heart for the hospital and the staff forever.”

Titilayo Smith, wife of HCA Healthcare stroke patient

Watch Keith and Titilayo’s wedding ceremony organized by his caregivers on Fox26’s website.

A moment of joy

Dr. Jaren Riley is a highly regarded pediatric orthopedic surgeon for spine and scoliosis treatment. In fact, he was the first in the Rocky Mountain Region to perform vertebral body tethering, a groundbreaking scoliosis treatment. But to his patients, he is also known for his compassion.

13-year-old Nellie Carmona, a scoliosis patient at HCA Healthcare’s Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children in Denver, Colorado, has undergone four major spine surgeries and many other treatments. Dr. Riley could tell Nellie was nervous during their interactions in the hospital. So, he decided to swap out his doctor scrubs for a costume.

“Really, the whole point was to try to make Nellie feel comfortable, feel cared for,” Dr. Riley told Denver7 News. “And hopefully, that would help her to open up and talk a little more — just so that I knew she felt comfortable with what was happening.”

Dr. Riley’s plan worked, and he began to don a new costume for each visit, including a turkey, a pirate, and Nellie’s favorite — a dinosaur. Nellie’s newfound confidence and ease during appointments are evident in her huge smile whenever Dr. Riley enters the room.

Dr. Jaren Riley dressed in costumes smiling next to young patient, Nellie

A moment of recognition

During an inpatient stay at HCA Healthcare’s LewisGale Medical Center in Salem, Virginia, Jack Kingrea shared many aspects of his life with his caregivers – lessons learned, mistakes made and triumphs won. Jack had been in the hospital for nearly a month when his care team delivered the good news. Jack, a patient in the inpatient rehab unit, would be going home after a hard-fought recovery.

Hospital staff normally organize small celebrations when long-stay patients are discharged. When Jack’s occupational therapist, Mariah, told him it would be like a graduation ceremony, Jack began tearing up. He opened up once again, and he shared that he had missed his high school graduation 62 years ago.

Mariah knew this was an important milestone and refused to let Jack return home without holding a long-overdue graduation ceremony to acknowledge and celebrate his life-long accomplishments. Word spread around the hospital of the celebration, one much larger than they usually throw. Inpatient rehab staff collected graduation supplies and even found a cap and gown for Jack to wear. Colleagues piled into the inpatient rehab gym for a special surprise graduation ceremony to honor Jack.

 “The most important thing we can do for our patients is capitalize on any opportunity to make their stay personally meaningful,” said Elise Manning, LewisGale Medical Center’s inpatient rehab program director.

As Jack wheeled himself down to the gym and turned the corner, he found nearly 50 people cheering him on. They formed a human tunnel down the middle of the gym as Jack walked through to the end, high-fiving everyone along the way. Staff lifted canes taped with graduation decorations high in the air while Pomp and Circumstance played in the background. By the time he reached the end of the line, Jack was in tears, as were many of the attendees.

Sitting under a sign hung from the ceiling celebrating his achievement, Jack stood up from his wheelchair to a walker and was given a graduation cap, medal, and diploma for his success in the program. The team also celebrated with cake to mark a ceremony decades overdue.

“Jack didn’t have any idea that his conversation about his graduation would lead to a huge celebration for him, but it is our mission to provide the meaningful moments when we can and allow the patients to feel like they are special and cared for while they are with us.”

Elise Manning, LewisGale Medical Center’s inpatient rehab program director

A moment of empathy

Rene Lighthouse smiling for a picture in the hospital hallway
Rene Lighthouse, nurse, UCF Lake Nona Hospital

As an HCA Healthcare nurse in UCF Lake Nona Hospital’s Family Birthing Unit, Rene Lighthouse sees patients experiencing life’s greatest joys and also those grieving profound loss. It’s those parents who remind Rene of her personal experience of suffering the loss of her own baby nearly 30 years ago.

When Rene encounters families who have endured stillbirth, with their permission, she creates a cast molding of the baby’s hands or feet as a deeply personal gift for the parents.

“This is my way of giving back and sharing comfort during such a tragic situation,” Rene said. “Sometimes knowing someone else has experienced a similar loss can provide comfort to the greatest grief.”

For the parents receiving them, Rene’s gift is meaningful in a way no parent can articulate unless having gone through the same loss. Without using words, Rene’s actions show they aren’t alone in their suffering and grief.

“To me, there’s nothing more personal,” Rene said. “No one can understand the feelings and emotions of a parent in that situation. In that moment, I can bond with our patients in a deeper and more meaningful way.”

Committed. Compassionate. Connected.

HCA Healthcare is committed to providing compassionate, personalized care during every step of our patients’ care journey. We strive to connect with each patient and ensure they are cared for like family, because to us, they are.

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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