Commitment to Patient Care Not Quite Sturdy at Sturdy Hospital

BY: Dr. Bharani Padmanabhan – Nov. 2016

Leadership is made much of because it affects every member of an organization and everyone who has to deal with them. The impact of leadership is felt in every interaction, big or small, and in every policy that is implemented on a daily basis.

When the leadership is bad, this is immediately felt in every interaction with the hospital staff and the policies one is confronted with.

When the leadership is bad, that is revealed too by the overt reliance on fake metrics like Leapfrog Group Scores to paper over reality and distract people.

This past week I had my first experience of interacting with the system at Sturdy Memorial Hospital. Two weeks prior, I had faxed in three orders, 2 for CT scans and 1 for neck dopplers, to be done on a patient of mine who lives in Taunton and is registered with Sturdy Hospital. They have all her data.

The expectation had been that the hospital would call the patient to set up a time to come in for the scans and I would do a house call after, to see the images and discuss it with my patient.
Two weeks later my patient called me, this past Monday, to say what Tom Duggan loves to say – “Crickets!” No one had called her and the scans were never done.

So I phoned Sturdy’s radiology department right away. “Oh,” said the lady on the phone, “we never call the patient. That is our policy. All our doctors know that.”

I informed her that I was not affiliated with Sturdy and nowhere on the hospital website was this policy mentioned.

“Well,” she said, “I don’t know about the website. But we never call the patient or the doctor. So we just filed your faxes.”

“Well, would I be able to make an appointment for her scans now on the phone?”

“No, because you need to check her insurance and without that we will not book a slot.”

“She has good insurance.”

“I meant you need to check her insurance.”


“Perhaps you mean get a prior authorization for the scan?” I ventured.

“That’s what I said. Call us back with the number.”


So I called my patient’s insurance plan at Blue Cross and was informed that she did not need any prior authorization for CT scans, only for MRIs.

I called the Leapfrog-awarded Sturdy Hospital back.

“I just got off the phone with Blue Cross and they said my patient never needed a PA for CT scans.”

“Well, we would not know that.”

“May I have a slot now for her please?”

“What test are you ordering?

“The same tests I faxed you two weeks ago.”

“Hang on, let me find them.”

She actually found them!

“Tell her to come in on Friday at 7:30 in the morning.”

“Is that the earliest? She’s been waiting for 2 weeks and didn’t even need insurance approval.”
“I said Friday at 7:30 in the morning.”


Folks at other departments also informed me that they simply don’t have the staff to call patients to come in for their appointments. The policy throughout is that the hospital does not call patients for anything. But their website declares “Sturdy Memorial Puts Patients First”
The really scary part? “Sturdy is capable and prepared to handle any patients with potential Ebola virus disease.” says the hospital on Twitter. Good luck with epidemics Attleboro!

No wonder Sturdy Hospital needs to tout a Leapfrog Score.

When the present CEO took over, the local newspaper gushed –

“Replacing a legend can’t be easy. And in the world of hospital administration, Shyavitz’s record of achievement that includes 28 consecutive years of budget surpluses – often $10 million at a whack – certainly makes her a legend, and would surely put her in a hospital administrator’s hall of fame.”

It seems to me the present CEO, Bruce Auerbach, who served for years under the former CEO, is on course to becoming an administrative legend as well.

I called my patient back to give her the appointment time and said “Next time you are going to Shields in Brockton.”

Bharani Padmanabhan MD PhD is a neurologist who specializes in multiple sclerosis in the Boston area.