Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ilene Corina: “I couldn’t believe it when the doctor said ‘no’.”

Ilene Corina, PULSE of New York
The National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) annual Congress will bring some 1400 patient safety champions from around the country to New Orleans May 8-10 2013, to collaborate, brainstorm, teach and learn. As guest blogger for the NPSF Congress, I'm privileged to share the amazing stories of some of the champions of patient safety who'll be attending. This profile will cross-post on the NPSF Congress website this week.
Who: Ilene Corina
What: President, PULSE of New York
Member, NPSF Board of Governors, 7 years 
www.pulseofny.org, www.patientsafetyconsultants.com  
Ilene Corina has experienced the best and worst in health care. Her first child bled to death after a routine surgery. Her agony intensified after his death, when the surgeon who’d dismissed her concerns about her son's bleeding post-surgery refused to take her phone calls. But it was another event years later that would propel Ilene into a lifetime of patient advocacy. Today she believes that in order to stay on top of health care, there is no substitute for sitting at the bedside of a patient.
Pat Mastors: What brought you to patient safety in the first place?

Ilene Corina: Most people think it was the death of my first child, Michael in 1990, who bled to death from a tonsillectomy, that sent me into the work of patient safety, but that's not true.  I was in too much pain then. The impetus was the feeling of helplessness years later when my youngest child needed surgery.

Matthew was born severely premature at just 23 weeks. His team in the NICU was amazing, and he survived. But when he was three years old, and I needed an anesthesiologist for his surgery in 1996, I was told I couldn't choose the anesthesiologist myself.  Even though my son was born premature, had 24 hour nursing care and lung problems, and I went to meet the anesthesiologists in the weeks before his surgery with his list of medications, lung x-rays and medical records. When the doctor said "no"-- that I would have to wait until the day of surgery and see who would be available-- I was stunned. The system was taking away my right to choose a doctor for Matt, after I'd helped get him over the painful humps so early in his life.  I was determined to change things-- or at least be heard. I knew it was time, right there, to change the rules, were I ever to need to do this again. 

The joy in all of this is that Matt not only survived being born so early, he had no disabilities and today is a healthy young man in college. I credit that to the partnership between me and his medical team, back when he was born. I like to think I experienced the worst in healthcare and I experienced the best. I now want people to know what I know.

Pat Mastors: What’s the most encouraging thing that’s happened in the past year in patient safety? The most concerning?
Ilene Corina: The work that I am doing on Long Island is growing.  Our Patient Safety Advisory Council has grown and we have looked at patient safety as it pertains to individuals, not just a society as a whole. Some of the groups I have worked closely with are people with disabilities, adults with low literacy, transgender patients and teen moms.  All our work is at the grassroots level. I learn more than I can teach, and that's exciting!  We are teaching about patient safety, and then learn what it's like to walk in their shoes, what their obstacles are, and how they’re navigating them. Then we develop tools to help them feel more empowered and improve their care.  We hope to help the people who work in the healthcare system understand what we have learned and incorporate our findings into their work. 
I think the most concerning thing is still the lack of funding available for our type of work.  There are hundreds of community members representing breast cancer support, HIV/AIDS, Autism, veterans and bullying, but not enough representing patient safety.  It's hard to grasp or show the full scope of the need when there are only a few of us working on the changes.

Pat Mastors:  What will you uniquely bring to the discussion at the Congress?  
Ilene Corina: I am not presenting at the Congress but I will be looking for collaboration...NPSF is the leader in bringing the patient and families voice to the table.  I like to think that we do the same at PULSE,  bring everyone's voice to the table.

Pat Mastors: Where would you like to see more energy focused?
Ilene Corina: Two areas. Our Family-Centered Patient Advocacy is growing and our small classes fill up now. I would love to hold classes more often.

I also think that the people who make the big decisions in the hospital setting may be losing track of what goes on at the bedside. I feel obligated to spend a certain amount of hours a year with people I do not know at their bedside so I can watch independently what happens and practice what I preach for others to do. Do they wash their hands or introduce themselves to the patient?  Are they giving out pills in little paper cups and not asking the patient her name?  Is the doctor asking the patient questions and having the patient answer appropriately?  Does the nurse seem stressed?    I need to know what is happening at the bedside.  If problems need addressing, I will write to the hospital and I also blog about my experiences. These are things no one can see regularly unless someone is willing to plant themselves at the patient's bedside…and I am willing! 

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