Letter to the editor by Mark Blankenship, SWMC Director of Perioperative Services

By Mark Blankenship RN, Director of Perioperative Services/Supply Chain

October 13, 2017

SWMC Board, SWMC Administrators, and most of all, SWMC Staff:

I came to Sonoma West after ten years looking for what I once had up north, a sense of care and commitment that only a small rural, and often distressed hospital has to offer. A sense of priority and the realization that none of us will ever get rich in such a small place with such a high cost of living. To say, rich, in a monetary sense. The wealth one accumulates in these small facilities does not have a monetary figure attached. It is a wealth of soul and purpose. A wealth of commitment and fulfillment not possible in a corporate health care environment where the only priority, it seems, is about the paycheck.

I started here about a year ago and have sat through some of the most bizarre and insulting board meetings I have seen in nearly forty years of health care. Although I have never stood to speak, I wanted to on so many occasions. However, I realized my drive to speak was all too frequently out of anger and disappointment at those who seem determined to see this special place fail. I first realized in my nursing program that surgery was the place I was meant to be after training. I first realized that in an operating room at Palm Drive Hospital in 1987.

I was part of an exodus about six months ago when the future here looked very bleak. I left because I was afraid of the potential loss of income I feared was about to materialize, and I did so with a heavy heart. Before I left, I had several influential people here offer that if Kaiser didn’t work, I had a place to come back to. When I realized that Kaiser and I were just not a good fit, I called John. I had other options, but it was clear where I was to return.

At 3 am Monday morning, October 9th, while I stood outside my parent’s house slamming my fist on their door, I looked all around me and the entire city that I love was ringed in the eeriest red glow I have ever witnessed. As soon as I realized my entire family was safe, all I could think about was where I had to be. I had to be here. I got here around eight am to a parade of ambulances and vans transporting patients from nearby evacuated facilities. The hall ways were packed. A patient who tried in vain to rescue his daughter was intubated and on a ventilator in our ICU. Night shift staff never left. Staff not on duty appeared. Staff from other hospitals showed up offering whatever help we could identify. Staff who lost everything but family, worked alongside those of us much luckier.

Not only did SWMC see an influx of walk in patients, we filled our beds with fresh post-op patients. And not just routine post-op care was needed. We had a recovering open-heart patient from Sutter’s open heart program. We had a post-op thoracotomy patient walking the halls with chest tubes attached. The last time this facility saw such an acuity level was…. probably never. We took in severely medically compromised patients from Sonoma Developmental Center, the facility I began my career in 1979. What I saw was not even controlled chaos, it was simply controlled.

As we rolled through the week, keeping a close eye on newly evacuated areas and family. And we kept coming to work, many of us worked incredibly long shifts with very little rest. But we kept coming to work. In my career, I have been so rewarded with the results of so many projects and outcomes. I have worked as a staff nurse and a leader and have had the privilege to work with countless of this industry’s biggest heroes. I am certain that what I have seen and experienced here this week will be a highlight of my career. I have long recognized that I am privileged to be in this field. From my perspective, working with and caring for surgical patients is one of the highest callings in health care. We care for and keep safe patients who will never be as vulnerable as when they come to our operating rooms. They depend on our wisdom, talents, and experience to keep them safe from harm.
SWMC keeps patient from harm, and cares for those unfortunate enough to have not been able to avoid it. It is shameful that some in this room are too ignorant or involved in their own agendas to not realize the value and worth of such a facility. I do not recall many times in my life and career where I felt such shame for those who are so guilty of these actions and ideations. Many of us in this room truly wish you would just simply go away and stop detracting from the incredible actions and dedication of those of us who care and have dedicated our lives to caring for others less fortunate than ourselves.

Mark Blankenship RN
Director of Perioperative Services/Supply Chain

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