Committee life


Dr. Jack Johnson was on the way to a meeting when his patient's wife walked by him in the hallway. She wanted an update on her husband's prognosis, which was not very good.

Dr. Johnson was in a hurry but took the time to give her the basics and promised he'd be up to the room to talk to both of them at noon. He would just skip lunch. He hustled down the long hallway and entered the conference room a few minutes behind schedule. He really hated to be late. It was the first meeting of the Administrative Reorganization Work Group. Whatever that was. All he knew was his administrator had asked him to represent his division's interests, so he was there.

Illustration by David Rosenman
Illustration by David Rosenman

He entered the room and immediately saw a nurse manager he detested. She was so compulsive about following rules that she made any meeting bog down in detail and grind to a halt. Good thing he was here to keep things moving.

***

This was Anne Swenson's fourth committee to meet about limiting meetings, and the thought made her ill. She had been a nurse manager for 17 years and had seen administrations come and go. She had suffered through so many meetings where good ideas had ended up in limbo because nobody followed a process, kept good notes, or understood the complexities of achieving anything in their byzantine institutional bureaucracy. She loved her job and the hospital and would do anything to make things better.

Moving things along was her goal, and understanding the process was the only way. She stared across the table and sighed. There was Mark Wennstein, the systems analyst. All he did in meetings was stare at his phone. Probably just looking at Facebook. A waste of a chair in the room. He did not seem to care about anything. And he certainly was not paying attention to the meeting.

***

Mark frantically tapped on his screen. His wife was 8 months pregnant, his 3-year-old son had a bad cough, and they couldn't sell their house because his septic system was not meeting compliance standards.

He was frantically scrolling for his notes. He had spent 3 hours preparing for this meeting last night. He took his job very seriously, probably excessively. This morning before he left the house he could not find his tablet, until it was eventually located in the messy hands of his son. His work from last night appeared to have been erased. He always had to multitask at meetings. He constantly monitored the hospital census and ED waiting times.

He tried to ignore the woman sitting next to him, Agnes Duffy from the revenue cycle. He found her incredibly annoying. Every meeting, the other members would be working hard, and she would nod off to sleep. She should retire. Probably up all night buying cheap jewelry on the Home Shopping Network, like the hideous piece hanging around her neck.

***

Agnes was struggling. She was near retirement and 100 pounds overweight, and her diabetes was out of control. She lived with her mentally disabled daughter who spent her days making jewelry. It was the thing that made her happiest, and Agnes wore the necklaces she made with pride. Last night, Agnes' CPAP machine had broken again, and she had spent a miserable few hours choking and snoring.

But she was here to do her job, and nothing was going to stop her from meeting her responsibilities. Dear Lord, was she tired, though. She hoped this meeting would not be a waste. She struggled to keep her eyes open as she looked at the administrative intern across the table. Why was she dressed so poorly? How could she show such disrespect for the institution, wearing jeans and a T-shirt to her first meeting? Not much hope for her.

***

Kelly Howard was as nervous as she had ever been. She had just gotten her Master's in Health Administration. This was her first meeting, and everything had gone wrong. Her luggage, with her brand-new, expensive work wardrobe, had been lost in transit. She so wanted to make a great first impression. All she had to wear were the ratty jeans and shirt she had worn on the airplane coming to town last night. Kelly looked at the committee chair with admiration. Grant Smith was everything she had hoped for in mentor. He was confident and organized and seemed like a masterful leader. She would learn so much from him.

***

Grant Smith sighed. He hated his job and could not wait to retire. He disliked running meetings, and he especially detested mentoring new hires. He wanted nothing more than to hide in his office and look at his stock portfolio. Grant might not like his job, but he was decent at making committees appear successful, regardless of the actual outcome. He began to review the agenda, just as Dr. Johnson walked in the room. Late as always. That pompous physician had probably been chatting with a nurse instead of being here on time for his committee.

He called the meeting to order. Time to get something done.