A local medical provider has added her name to a list of others who say they were mistreated while at Sutter Coast Hospital.
Carolyn Dikes, a local physician’s assistant, sent a letter to the Del Norte Healthcare District on Jan. 2, detailing her experience as a patient at Sutter Coast Hospital in June 2017.
Healthcare District Director Dr. Kevin Caldwell, who along with his colleague Dr. Greg Duncan are investigating allegations of mistreatment made by other patients, summarized Dikes’ letter at the Healthcare District’s meeting Jan. 23.
“We still continue to get many letters and this one we’ve printed because it’s from Carolyn Dikes,” Caldwell said. “Most of us know Carolyn Dikes. She’s lived here forever and she’s a PA.”
In an interview with the Triplicate on Monday, Dikes said her husband brought her to the hospital’s emergency room on June 9 after she had been having fevers, vomiting and diarrhea for three days.
Dikes said she remembers feeling sick on June 5 during a horseback trip with her in-laws, but trying to recall specifics about her illness is difficult. She said her husband spent three days trying to keep her hydrated before telling her she needed to see a doctor, but she doesn’t have any recollection of that.
On June 9, Dikes’ husband told her he was going to take her to the emergency room and helped her into the truck. Once they arrived at the hospital, the nurses tried to triage Dikes quickly. She said was told she was being admitted for pneumonia and electrolyte disturbances.
“My husband said the ER did a fabulous job, although they didn’t recognize that my mentation was off,” Dikes said. “I could answer their questions, but it would take me a long time to come up with the answer, like what day is today and who’s the president. And then my husband said there was a lady there, he doesn’t know where she worked, she was in the ER and she recognized me and she told the doctor that I wasn’t right.”
Despite the positive experience at Sutter Coast’s ER, Dikes said when she was wheeled from the ER to the Med/Surg department, she felt like she needed an escape plan.
“I’ve told my husband and my family members and my nurses for years that I never want to be admitted to Sutter because of their reputation, because of the way I’ve seen them take care of my own patients,” she said. “I was very scared. I knew I was sick by that point. They told me I had pneumonia; I had no idea that I was septic. I don’t think they understood I was septic. I haven’t gone through all of my records with a fine-toothed comb, but I did look at a few of my records and it doesn’t seem like they recognized the sepsis. They recognized I had an electrolyte disturbance and they attempted to correct that.”
Dikes would be diagnosed with septic pneumococcal pneumonia about five days later at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass. She said she was at Sutter Coast Hospital for about four days.
During her stay at Sutter Coast Hospital, Dikes said she remembers struggling with a large IV pole despite her weakness. She questioned why she wasn’t sent to ICU even though she was receiving potassium and magnesium through an IV. She said she wasn’t on a heart monitor, although patients on potassium and magnesium are typically on heart monitors.
Dikes said Sutter Coast staff didn’t change her bed linen, although it was soiled with feces, or bathe her.
“My husband came several times; he would come four or five times a day and every time he came I was laying in feces,” she said. “And there was a blanket on a chair that had feces on it and he said that blanket was never changed. It was the same stain on the same blanket on the same chair for my whole stay. Every time he’d ask for help cleaning me and changing me and every time they’d say OK we’ll go get what we need and be right back and they never came back.”
Dikes said she also never received a meal tray during her time at Sutter Coast Hospital. She said her husband was told she had never called to order one.
“Every nurse in the world that’s part of their job is to make sure their patients are fed (and to) measure how much they’re feeding,” Dikes told the Triplicate. “If you can’t call or you don’t call, then your nurse calls for you.”
Dikes described wearing sequential compression devices for the prevention of deep-vein thrombosis that were never plugged in. She said her husband told her that her IVs were often empty with alarms blaring and even though she rang for a nurse she received no response. Dikes also said the call button on her hospital bed didn’t work.
Finally, after receiving another doctor, Dikes asked him to discharge her.
“I told him I need to be discharged. I need to go to a higher level of care, this place is killing me,” she said. “He said ‘OK, I’ll get your discharge papers ready.’ I texted my husband that I’d been discharged and my husband came to get me, but he was very confused because I was still very ill. I had no improvements. I was still spiking fevers. I was just as sick as when I went in.”
When her husband arrived, Dikes said he found a nurse changing her IV bag and when he asked the nurse why the IV bag was being changed if his wife was going to be discharged, the nurse flushed the IV, capped it off and walked out of the room.
Once she got home, Dikes said a colleague of hers contacted her primary care physician who made arrangements for her to be seen at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center.
Once there, Dikes said she received a bath, respiratory therapy treatments and she met with a nutritionist. She said she had a nurse in her room 24-hours a day. Dikes said she doesn’t know when exactly she was discharged from Asante, but after spending weeks in bed recovering, she returned to work on Aug. 24.
“It was hard; I was exhausted,” she said of returning to her job. “I still don’t feel like my entire memory is intact and I find myself using little tricks to help like Post-it notes and sending myself emails. I don’t know if it was the illness or if it’s a little PTSD; I have no idea.”
After filing a formal complaint with Sutter Coast Hospital about her treatment, Dikes said she met with the department managers in mid-July. She said she was asked to participate in a patient experience report and she was told that they were surprised to hear her complaints because they had only heard people speak to them with good experiences.
“They had excuses for everything,” Dikes said. “I was told there were not enough (certified nurses assistants), which was why I didn’t get a bath or my sheets changed. They told me the reason (the sequential compression devices) were never plugged in is because I was up to go to the bathroom too often...”
When asked if Sutter Coast Hospital staff indicated that her concerns would be addressed, Dikes said they mentioned a patient community meeting, but noted that program was already in the works before her stay at the hospital.
At the Jan. 23 Healthcare District meeting when Caldwell brought up Dikes’ letter, Sutter Coast Hospital Administrator Carlos Priestly didn’t comment on her complaint. When asked by Healthcare District Director Terry McNamara if there is a shortage on certified nursing assistants, Priestly said no.
“As a rule of thumb, we’re not short on CNAs,” Priestly said. “We do ongoing recruitment like most organizations and from time to time, we have recruited for CNAs.”
When any hospital employee receives a complaint, they enter the details into an internal information system at Sutter Coast, Priestly said. The hospital responds to the patient via a letter within 72 hours, he said. Priestly also added that they inform patients of other agencies they can submit their concerns to.
In a statement to the Triplicate, Sutter Health spokeswoman Leslie Meiring noted that patient privacy and confidentiality laws prevent her from publicly discussing the specifics of care that anyone receives at Sutter Coast Hospital.
“We take patient complaints very seriously and we have processes in place to respond to the complaints,” Meiring said via email. “We are always looking for new ways to improve the patient experience.”
To help do that, Sutter Coast Hospital recently established a Patient Family Advisory Council, which met for the first time this month. The council consists of four community members who are former patients or caregivers of patients, according to a statement from Sylvia Banzon, the hospital’s manager of quality services.
“Based upon our patient satisfaction surveys as well as patient cards and letters, the vast majority of our patients have a very favorable impression of Sutter Coast Hospital and the physicians and staff who provide their care,” Banzon said. “In November, our patient surveys indicated Sutter Coast Hospital was above national standards for hospital cleanliness. Our home health patient surveys also recently received a five-star rating based on direct feedback from patients in our care.”
Dikes said she sent her letter to the Healthcare District because friends, family and colleagues encouraged her to. She would like to see another company take over the hospital. She said she has a better understanding of what her patients have gone through at Sutter Coast Hospital.
“(Before) I would never say ‘Oh yeah, that Sutter’s bad, I would just actively listen,’” she said. “Now I say, ‘Oh yeah, I know that Sutter’s bad,’ which is sad because there’s some terribly awesome, perfect employees there; some great people.”
Dikes said she’s also concerned with how patients’ treatment at Sutter Coast reflects upon the local medical community as a whole.
“You see it on Facebook all the time or you hear about it downtown all the time about the awful medical care in this community,” she said. “Well that means I’m part of that awful medical care in this community and I definitely don’t want to be that. I want to take absolutely the best care of every single patient I have and I can’t do that unless everybody around me is also doing that because we’re a team.”
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .