Should I report medical staff for laughing it up at a drugged patient?
October 26, 2020 1:11 PM   Subscribe

My 88-year-old mother was diagnosed with a meningioma (non-malignant brain tumor) many years ago. She undergoes semi-annual MRIs to track the growth of the tumor, even though her neurologist doesn't recommend surgery at her age. They apparently are mainly tracking its growth to determine the type/amount of pain meds they prescribe. Before she gets the MRI she has an Rx to take beforehand: one pill at home, and then one pill while en route to the clinic. (Is this typical? I don't know.)

I don't know what pills (prescribed by her neurologist) she is taking, but apparently their purpose is to relax her before going into "the tube". I haven't seen Mom in person since the pandemic; due to her age I don't want to take a chance of bringing germs into her house (even though I'm negative and have no symptoms), so we mainly communicate via email. As she was checking out from this latest MRI appointment, she reported that the three women at the front desk were outright laughing at her. She told me that at first she looked behind her to see what was so funny, but she was alone. There was no mirror nearby, so she couldn't check her hair or clothing to see if something was amiss. Then one of them women at the desk commented to another (loudly enough for Mom to overhear) "She looks like she's drunk!"

Mom was very embarrassed, even though I tried to console her and say it was the drugs, not her. But still - wouldn't this be considered very unprofessional behavior by employees in a medical atmosphere? I mean, what's next - laughing at the limping person with a cane? Mom is already embarrassed enough and told me to just forget about it, but I think that someone "in charge" at this clinic should be aware of what I think is unprofessional behavior. Should I report it or not? And to whom?
posted by Oriole Adams to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yup, you should say something. This is very inappropriate. You could basically just call and ask for the manager if you don't feel comfortable talking to the front desk people directly. I'm not sure if this a freestanding MRI center or part of a clinic or hospital but even if part of a hospital, there is some department manager.

Does someone drive your mom to the MRI? She shouldn't drive herself while using ativan or whatever else she's being given to reduce anxiety during the MRI.
posted by latkes at 1:22 PM on October 26 [22 favorites]

My brother drives her and waits outside during her appointment (Covid and all).
posted by Oriole Adams at 1:25 PM on October 26 [2 favorites]

YEp. Report the hell out of this. These people have no business behaving in that way.
posted by Alensin at 1:27 PM on October 26 [9 favorites]

Yeah, that’s not OK. If the center is part of a hospital or a larger chain, there may be a patient experience contact person she can report this to and they will handle getting the feedback to the correct person.
posted by MadamM at 1:29 PM on October 26 [4 favorites]

Yes, please do that.

I still deeply regret not having reported similar behavior aimed at my terrified and exhausted child one night in the ER several years ago. I wish to God I'd taken pictures of every one of those bitches and sent it to their shift supervisor, the hospital director, their HR department and everyone else I could think of.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:29 PM on October 26 [15 favorites]

It's so hard to tell without being there. They could have been looking at a video on their phone.

It bugs me too when receptionists at medical settings appear wrapped up in their own conversation and don't even look up when patients arrive. Outright mocking someone who's right there is beyond the pale.

You could remind the management that they need a refresher on making patients feel cared for and welcome. You could also remember that receptionists don't often get paid much or have much training, and turnover can be high. So they are basically high school girls wanting to hang out with friends and worrying about who likes them or not. I've had to supervise staff in similar settings and that kind of patient focus is really hard to instill, unless they have it already.
posted by dum spiro spero at 1:30 PM on October 26 [7 favorites]

Not only would I report this to the clinic manager and anyone I could find above them, I would leave every review in every possible online space that I could. Do it in writing as well as with a phone call.
posted by corey flood at 1:31 PM on October 26 [5 favorites]

Yeah, if you didn't actually witness this encounter, might there possibly be some sort of misunderstanding, like that the staff were actually laughing at a picture on somebody's smartphone or on a computer screen, but that your mother was feeling self-conscious and/or still a bit woozy, and misunderstood the subject of the conversation?

Don't get me wrong, it's definitely a jerk move if it happened-- but if this is a clinic where people regularly have this procedure, it also seems kind of unlikely that staff would still find anything hilarious in the normal post-anaesthesia behavior or facial expressions they see every day. Moreover, unless they were physically pointing right at her while laughing, it'd be hard for someone outside the front desk to reliably discern what was being commented on. I might call a supervisor and discreetly investigate, rather than angrily reporting right off the bat.
posted by Bardolph at 1:31 PM on October 26 [22 favorites]

If this is an imaging center, you should be able to contact them and ask for a manager's name/number/email. If this is an imaging department in a hospital, it may be easiest to find the hospital's ombudsman if they have one. Otherwise you might just call their information number and ask for contact information for the manager of the department in charge of MRI services.

Whatever report you make, I would suggest sending it to your mom's neuro as well.

This is so far beyond the pale of okay that someone should (and probably won't) get fired. Many many many people walking through that door are medicated for MRIs, and others will have mobility or neurological issues that may affect gait, speech, or behavior and for the staff to comment on this in ANY WAY is absolutely unacceptable, and if they were talking about anything else they're simply unprofessional and should do that shit at home without a job instead.

I would also get a commitment from the manager that should you ever come back a) at all b) during pandemic precautions, you and your brother will be live-monitoring your mother's safety and well-being via Facetime the entire time she's inside since you can't trust their staff to be professional and take care of her.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:34 PM on October 26 [3 favorites]

Even if people were laughing at a picture on a phone, that’s unacceptable behavior in a medical setting for this very reason. Staff needs to be trained to not do things like that so there are no misunderstandings.
posted by corey flood at 1:40 PM on October 26 [35 favorites]

Talk to the clinic about it, but also drugged up people with brain tumors sometimes believe things that are not true... my husband once insisted he his caregivers having an extended conversation about the TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 out in the hall but I was there and in fact they were talking about weddings because one of the doctors had just gotten married and a PA was recently engaged. My husband just had MST3K on the brain (and some receptive aphasia, in his case).

Not saying that’s what happened with your mom, and I don’t want to remotely gaslight her! Definitely some healthcare providers are dicks! But also some people on tranquilizers are confused. And tumors can cause aphasia (may or may not be likely on your mom’s case).
posted by mskyle at 1:42 PM on October 26 [12 favorites]

This is complete bullshit, and you should do something about it.

Laughing with, at, or around someone with a brain tumour is completely unprofessional and unacceptable.
posted by MiG at 1:46 PM on October 26 [1 favorite]

I'd get the story from the office manager before you demand people be punished or leave bad reviews.
posted by soelo at 1:51 PM on October 26 [8 favorites]

Tell your Mom, from all of us, that it was horrible, that she deserves respect and dignity. I'm so so sorry anyone would have this experience.

Many practices have a Patient Advocate or Ombudsperson. Be persistent. Even if they were laughing at a phone video, that's why they shouldn't be watching phone videos on the job. Wildly inappropriate and hurtful.
posted by theora55 at 2:15 PM on October 26 [2 favorites]

I'd double-check with your brother to see what she reported when she got back from the car. Agreeing with other people on the following points.

- you should report it
- it's possible there was a misunderstanding
- it's still important to report this (as people have said, if someone coming out of a procedure could feel that people were laughing at her THAT is its own issue and then ACTUALLY laughing at her is a second issue)
- might be worth knowing what pills your mom took as part of this process (it's pretty normal to get ativan before MRIs because some people find them very troubling) because maybe it's too much?

I'd write a super professional (i.e. not outraged) email about what your mother felt she experienced and how you'd like some sort of explanation because it totally seems like it wasn't okay.
posted by jessamyn at 2:22 PM on October 26 [10 favorites]

Reiterating that you should report 1) what your mother perceived, and 2) how it made her feel. It's the staff's job to make her feel comfortable, and - for whatever reason - they failed. It's entirely possible that they were laughing at her, but there's no way to prove that, and you're less likely to get results if you accuse them of that, rather than remaining neutral about why your mother felt that way. You may also want to tell them that you would prefer that your mother not know about your inquiry, because it would only further stress her.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 2:57 PM on October 26 [2 favorites]

Even if they weren't laughing at her, it's still worth reporting. I've been the person acting too casual (in a non-medical setting). It's easy to forget that what's just another day at the office for you is a stressful and unusual experience for others.
posted by Mavri at 3:33 PM on October 26 [5 favorites]

This is not good. Should be reported to the doctor.

I have had many an MRI. For many, going into the tube is difficult or can be traumatic. I actually like to be in small spaces so I always turn down the valium or similar medication they offer. Your mom probably did have the max relax going. Regardless, the proper response by the receptionist if she thought your mom looked drunk would not be to laugh at her, but to offer her some assistance of some sort.
posted by AugustWest at 3:49 PM on October 26 [2 favorites]

Medical Licensing boards are typically receptive to this kind of complaint and track them for a long time, even across employers. The boards don’t really like this kind of thing. If there’s a pattern, they can sometimes take action that an employer wouldn’t.

You may not get a resolution, but others down the road might.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:26 PM on October 26

I definitely think you should call them and have a conversation about it, but I agree with others that you should report this as what your mother perceived and how she felt, rather than as a concrete fact.

Would your brother going in with her for the appointments be okay with your mother, brother and you? If he's not able to go in simply due to current policies (rather than a risk reduction decision by your family), would it be a good idea to ask whether an exception could be made in this case? I wouldn't be comfortable with my elderly relatives needing to go to into appointments alone while on sedatives.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 6:46 PM on October 26 [1 favorite]

Report it. Maybe it was a misunderstanding of some sort and the employees will have a good reason why they were laughing, but it's not your responsibility to look into this, just report it and move on. They aren't going to get fired based on one patient reporting this behavior.
posted by yohko at 9:58 PM on October 26

Before she gets the MRI she has an Rx to take beforehand: one pill at home, and then one pill while en route to the clinic.

Not that uncommon if people are nervous about MRIs. I know someone who needed to be fully sedated for claustrophobia. If she needed them before but is more comfortable with the procedure now she can bring this up with her doctor.
posted by yohko at 10:00 PM on October 26 [1 favorite]

My concern is that of she really was woosy and acting drunk, medical staff should have placed her in a wheelchair IMMEDIATELY because risks of falls are a big big deal and extremely dangerous as one ages (even if she was using a Walker, or a cane).

If she felt even slightly off balanced it would be completely reasonable to ask for a wheelchair for safety purposes.

Ask your brother how she presented at pick up first before you do anything else.

I don't trust medical providers one bit, and this could have happened. But, I work in medical settings and it takes a remarkable amount of intoxication of people to even notice because lots of people are drink or high all the time, and they interact with it so often it's really unremarkable unless it's really really bad.

All medical centers should have an official grievance process, it might be difficult to find, but they should give it to you so you can make an offical complaint. Also if she was pretty drugged after the procedure, it may be something to mention to her doctor as well to make sure the dosage is changed for next time.

I'm sorry that this happened to your mom. It's important for everybody to be aware because these things can and do happen.

This isn't a part of your question, but just in case I do want to note that Increasing paranoia and agitiation can happen with brain tumors and other age related disorders like dementia. So if you need up seeing a pattern of complaints that weren't happening before this would be important to mention to the health care providers involved in her care.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:43 AM on October 27 [7 favorites]

Agreeing with pretty much everyone, but Jessamyn said it almost word for word how I would have. From someone who works in the medical field (although rarely directly with patients), I ask you to report it.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 9:43 AM on October 27 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all your responses. My brother ended up contacting the manager of this particular clinic and was told that they'd had a few other complaints, would look into it, etc.

Mom usually had her exams at Henry Ford Hospital, and has had nothing but glowing reviews for their staff. Due to the Covid pandemic, Henry Ford is referring "routine" testing to outsourced clinics.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:18 PM on October 30 [2 favorites]

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