Deborah J. was in an agitated state when she first met Anna Parker more than a year ago.
Deborah (her last name is withheld for confidentiality) is the adult daughter of an 85-year-old bedridden man with multiple health problems, including mild dementia and heart disease. During one of his frequent hospitalizations at UCLA Medical Center last year, Deborah became upset when doctors relocated her father to another floor without her knowledge. She brought her complaint to Anna Parker, the hospital’s Senior Patient Liaison.
Though every case is unique, interacting with patients and families under tense circumstances is routine for Parker. After talking with Deborah, Parker tracked down the doctors and calmly explained the daughter’s side of the story. Parker let them know that Deborah did not disagree with their decisions, but expected to be notified in advance going forward. That simple act gave Deborah an enormous sense of relief.
“Anna really listens,” says Deborah. “Whenever I paged her she would call right back. You just get the feeling that she is empowered to act.”
“It’s all about communication and recognition,” says Parker. “The point of this job is to work until everyone is satisfied.”
Working toward mutual satisfaction is Parker’s M.O. So is dipping into a deep well of empathy, a trait you might say comes naturally to her. Parker knows first-hand what it’s like to sit in a hospital bed feeling helpless. As a child, she was sickly and endured serious spinal and eye surgeries. Even at the age of 12, she wondered how to get the best kind of care for herself. The kind where “you just feel like you’ve been helped and feel safe and taken care of,” she says.
As an adult, Parker is charming and approachable. Talk to her for five minutes and you find yourself spilling large portions of your own life history.
“She has this humbleness about her,” says Deborah.
Patient liaisons are problem solvers, called in to help patients and their caretakers with concerns big and small during hospitalization. From complaints about doctors who act too hastily, to room tidiness, to disputed diagnoses, to hot soup gone cold, they listen and react. They track down attending physicians, nurses, housekeeping, nutrition or social workers — whomever — in pursuit of answers.
“We are like the glue that holds everything else together,” says Manager Virgie Mosley, who runs the Office of Patient Experience at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “Our job is to be a little bit of an expert about everything. We need to know about Medicare rights, we need to know about patient rights, we need to know how different departments can work together to get results.”
In addition to reacting, Parker believes a good patient liaison is proactive. Every morning, she and her partner, Patient Liaison Eduardo Arambula, grab the census list of patients and make rounds, stopping in each room to ask, “How are you doing?”
When the pair comes across a stressed-out family member who has spent the night by a loved one’s bedside, they’ll suggest that person take a break, and then they’ll get out their Service Recovery Book and tear out a voucher for a free meal in the cafeteria. A relative who dashed out of the house in a frenzy without a wallet (hello, new dad!), might get a free parking voucher when it’s time to head home.
“It’s a luxury to have these vouchers,” says Parker, who recognizes how a simple gesture can go a long way toward helping her connect with the people she is there to help. “I’ve never worked at a hospital that tries as hard to keep patients and their families happy.”
At the end of the day, Parker credits her UCLA colleagues for making her job rewarding. “Everybody’s willing to help and explain [their role] until the patient and family members understand,” she says. “The transparency and the accountability here is great.”