Toys, Cheeseburgers, and Santa Clara County

In politics, sometimes it is hard to tell which issues will trigger emotion from the public. When the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors opened their chambers to public discourse on whether or not to ban the distribution of toys with food at fast food restaurants, the emotional responses were clear, launching Santa Clara County into the media spotlight.

The story is hard to miss, as it has been picked up by the New York Times, the L.A. Times and Mercury News. At issue? The County Board of Supervisor’s 3-2 decision in favor of incentivizing fast food with toy giveaways. As you know from many of the articles posted on this blog, the VMC Foundation actively supports the fight against childhood obesity in Santa Clara County.

Our Executive Director Chris Wilder was at the Board of Supervisor’s meeting, and had this observation to share with the public that we felt compelled to share with you:

“Good morning President Yeager, Board of Supervisors, County Staff. When I first saw yesterday’s half page ad in the Mercury News, I initially agreed with a part of it: this may not be the most important topic for the County Government to be taking up. County Government is better suited to work with the budget, corrections and child welfare. When I thought about child welfare a little more, however, I said to myself ‘Wait a minute. This issue does have to do with child welfare.’

I remembered that when I was 17 and began my first semester at San Jose State University, it was commonplace for tobacco companies to set up in front of the student union and give away their products. By the time I graduated in 1989 that was no longer the case. Somewhere in there, there was a policy decision that prevented them from doing that. I think this is a good example of how policy change can impact attitude and behavior. If someone walked into this room right now smoking a cigarette, I think everyone would be appalled. That wasn’t necessarily the case 20 or 30 years ago. Policy decisions can, in fact, have a positive impact on behaviors.

As described today, childhood obesity is a huge issue in this county. The combination of fat, salt and sugar is an addictive combination. It may not be as addictive as tobacco, but, on the other hand, when I accepted that free sample in front of the student union and tried it I didn’t like it. I wonder how many children don’t like the cheeseburger, french fry and chocolate shake combination that they get while incentivized by that toy.

So, as I continued to think about this, I came to the conclusion that I strongly support this ordinance and I am very glad you decided to take it up today. Thank you very much.”

Now, let’s just take a step back here…

Yesterday, a Mercury News story said some disparaging things about Valley Medical Center, and while I don’t often get into these kinds of things, I just can’t sit idly by and let it go. Not this time.

Because, you see, the story was based on a consultant’s report that wasn’t discussed or accepted by county officials until AFTER the story was published. The discussion yesterday at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting didn’t make the paper, but I was there.

Some of the findings were called into question, by the consultants themselves, and data sets backing up the claims haven’t been released yet. If you read the Mercury News’ story, you’ll remember they claimed that, based on the report:

– VMC is overstaffed

– VMC spends more on salaries as a % of overall expenses than other hospitals

– Births are declining at VMC

That last stat is true, and is true for the entire nation. Welcome to a recession, in the most expensive place in the nation to live! But, let’s step back and remember the two most basic facts I’ve been telling you for some time now:

– VMC’s budget: Reduced nine years in a row

– VMC’s patient population: Increased nine years in a row

VMC is overstaffed? By what metric? I wish I knew whether the hospitals VMC was being compared to had award-winning spinal cord and brain injury programs, or top-level NICU’s. VMC spends more on salaries than other things? Proudly, the VMC Foundation’s generous donors see that expensive devices like Giraffe Beds for infants and linear accelerators for cancer patients are provided, so the county spends less on equipment when times are tough…and it seems they always are.

County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith pointed out yesterday that the report wasn’t meant to imply that VMC was anything less than fantastic. “VMC’s staff work their butts off every day,” he said, “We’re just trying to find ways to be even better, and even more efficient.”

Again, that part didn’t make the paper. And I hope that more efficiency doesn’t mean doctors spending seven minutes on a patient visit. That’s how it was for me before I got here…when my doctor worked for a for-profit system. I’m proud that my VMC doctor takes time with me, and I know the opposite is one of the major frustrations people site when discussing health care. I’m also proud that the care I get is excellent, and that someone with no job and no coverage can get the exact same quality care.

And I know I’m not alone. Our community is justifiably proud of VMC, and amid efforts to make it even better, I will never forget that.

Capping a political week…

Today our Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren paid a visit to Valley Medical Center, a place she knows more about than I do.

That’s because, among other reasons, she helped save it.

Back in the mid-90’s, there were some who wanted the County of Santa Clara to get out of the medical center business. Zoe, a county supervisor at the time, said, essentially, “nope – that ain’t gonna happen” and fought to keep VMC open and available to everyone.

Today, she came to learn about our Medical Legal Partnership Clinic. The alert reader of this blog knows about how we have attorneys from the SV Law Foundation on hand to help our patients with problems that doctors cannot solve. She was really excited about this innovation, and pledged to help us keep the program going.

She’s not the only one impressed by VMC’s creativity.

Yesterday, we had a visit from Michael Blake, who does intergovernmental affairs for the White House. Yes, THAT White House. He was also blown away by what he heard from our team of doctors, nurses, and administrators who never stop thinking about how to serve Silicon Valley better than the day before. Big thanks to Supervisor Liz Kniss who made sure Mr. Blake came to see VMC during his whirlwind tour of Silicon Valley.

Both Michael and Zoe also had a lot to say about health care reform, but to keep from getting TOO political, let me just say that not all the good news about it has made the papers, and not all of it is even worked out yet. I’ll just quote Congresswoman Lofgren who said, about those on the fringes who oppose ANY reform at all: “We’re living on the same planet, but we’re breathing different air.”

Visits like these certainly demonstrate one thing: VMC has a lot to show off, and many of our programs and ideas can (and should) serve as models for medical centers across the nation. Wanna hear more about what VMC is doing? Visit our website and see what’s new!

VMC honors corps of 400 volunteers for National Volunteer Week

Each year, over 400 hundred residents of Santa Clara County volunteer their time and services as volunteers at VMC. The work is often thankless: a warm smile given to a wayward family looking to visit a patient, a cup of water refilled in a patient room, or a book read to a child in a clinic waiting room. The roles that volunteers play at VMC are essential to the high level of care provided at the busiest hospital in Santa Clara County, and deserving of widespread recognition and thanks. Volunteers enhance the services provided in the hospital so that the staff can focus solely on patient care and raise money to support the hospital through the leadership of the Volunteer Auxiliary Leadership team.

Every volunteer completes a minimum of 100 hours each year, but some exceed this commitment by 8 fold and sustain that level of service for as long as 15-20 years. At the VMC Foundation, we call on the help of volunteers multiple times a year, and couldn’t be more thankful for their support. Arriving on time and with a smile on their faces, volunteers have helped the Foundation welcome members of Congress, help guide guests to the appropriate event site, and staff reading zones in Valley Health Center clinic waiting rooms. An all volunteer staff help Foundation employee Kathy Trutz run the hospital Gift Shop, with all proceeds going to benefit the VMC Foundation. Another hospital volunteer, Jean Meddaugh, serves on the Board of Directors of the VMC Foundation. A retired VMC nurse and volunteer of 11 years, Jean helped launch VMC Foundation’s Reach out and Read program and continues to serve as a volunteer on VMC’s main hospital campus.

The volunteers at VMC really do play an essential role in helping achieve the mission of the hospital: to provide top quality health care to everyone in Santa Clara County, regardless of their ability to pay. So, if you see a volunteer in their signature blue smock, take a minute to thank them for all that they do each day. We thank you, VMC Volunteers! Your impact is felt in every corner of the hospital.

Technology Empowers VMC Rehabilitation Patients

Imagine that you wake up one day in a hospital after a serious accident and are told that you are paralyzed. How do you communicate with the outside world? What do you do when you need to write someone an e-mail or access the Internet? Luckily, patients who are admitted to VMC’s rehab center have an answer: the Technology Access Program (TAP), championed by the VMC Foundation’s own Debbie Burdsall.

An Occupational Therapist with 22 years of experience, Debbie understands her patients and their shifting needs. “The whole point of rehab is to become as independent as possible and to get back to life,” Debbie explains. “Technology is now a part of almost everyone’s life, and part of getting back to life today is resuming paying your bills, talking to your friends online, and emailing.”

Because technology is so pervasive, allowing rehab patients access early on is empowering. “It is the connectivity to the outside world and what happens as a result of that that is the most compelling part of TAP,” Debbie explains. “Because of this program, patients are now looking online and seeing what their options are for bath equipment, wheelchairs, etc. They are doing price comparisons and taking a much more active role in making decisions early on. I think that translates into a better outcome when they go home.”

Another one of TAP’s strengths lies in its ability to facilitate a patient’s interaction with their life and loved ones; to communicate with a world that doesn’t easily accommodate their life changing injuries. Using technology to communicate is such a creature comfort these days, checking e-mails and chatting online serves to reduce stress levels and improve the mood of patients, all elements that help the healing process.

While outcomes vary for each patient, the stories of recovery Debbie catalogs really solidify TAP’s importance. Take the young girl who wasn’t expected to live when she came in as an example. Her diagnoses was dire, but she began showing lightning fast progress when she was re-connected with the poetry she had written on her MySpace page after being loaned one of TAP’s laptops. At the time she was re-introduced to the Internet, she could only move her eyes. But because of the Technology Access Program’s ability to match technology assistance to a patient’s need (i.e. voice recognition, eye tracking software, and customized operating system) her recovery occurred that much faster. Today she is talking and beginning to walk; two skills doctors never thought she would accomplish on her own.

And the stories go on and on, one after the other highlighting a different strength of the Technology Access Program. Each laptop that patient’s use, every head mouse and customized operating system are purchased through the generous donation of community members and corporations. Currently, Debbie has 14 laptops to loan out to patients during their stay. Those laptops are in constant use and require maintenance from wear and tear. It’s hard for Debbie to keep up with the demand, so what does her ideal world look like? “Well,” she thinks out loud, “More laptops for patients to use while they are here, and I really wish I was able to send a laptop home with the patients who can’t afford to buy one of their own!” A noble goal for a very special program.

To learn how you can contribute to this program, please contact Michael Elliott at 408-885-5299.