Monday, March 1, 2010

Melissa Young, MD: The weather has been frightful

My practice is in New Jersey, basically central New Jersey, although people who live closer to New York consider us South Jersey, and people who live closer to Atlantic City think we’re North Jersey. We are also fairly close to the shore. This generally makes for a mild winter with one, maybe two, snowfalls that result in an accumulation of a couple of inches. And winters have gone by when I would wonder whether my children would ever experience the joys of building a snowman or sledding down a hill.

Well, I wonder no more. We have had more snow this winter than we have had in years. Oh, we had a worse storm a few years ago, but that was it for entire winter. This year, although the storms have not been particularly bad individually, they just keep coming, and putting new snow on top of old snow.

Now, why am I writing about the weather in a Physicians Practice blog? Because these storms come in the middle of workweeks. On days when the office schedule is full. Prior to the last storm, a couple of patients called the day before to cancel. The weatherman said the snow would start in the morning but it wouldn’t be bad until the afternoon, so I said we’d stay open for the morning and close early.
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But the snow started that night, and as I looked at the accumulation starting, I decided to cancel the morning appointments, too. I didn’t want patients or my staff driving through the snow or slipping on our walkways. I was unfortunately not able to get hold of everyone, so I went in just in case people would come.

One patient came. An 85-year-old woman brought in by her 60-or-so-year-old daughter. The daughter had knocked on the rear door, generally reserved for employees only, because they had parked right outside it. When I opened the door, she went back to the car to get the patient. I cringed as I watched her slowly make her way over, carefully stepping over mounds of snow. Mind you, I had actually spoken to the daughter earlier that day, and tried desperately to discourage her from coming, but apparently this was the only day she could bring her. When I was done with her visit, I walked them to the back door again, and held my breath as they walked to the car. I stood outside the door in my white coat until I could see she was safely seated inside the car.

The day after the storm, more people cancelled, either because they hadn’t been plowed out yet, they had no one to watch the kids who had a snow day, or they were just afraid of driving through what was left of the snow on the roads.

So two days of lost productivity. Tolerable, I suppose. But guess what? We just had another storm. I think this time people have just said, “whatever,” and decided life must go on, because aside from one 85-year-old woman, everybody else showed up yesterday, and she only cancelled because her ride cancelled on her.

Now granted, yesterday the roads were passable and the parking lots plowed. Not so today. One patient had already called yesterday to cancel, and another called early this morning. So I head to the office, and I guess I was the only one insane enough to do so because the parking lot was empty. Which was just as well because it wasn’t plowed. Nor were the walkways shoveled. And quite honestly, the town had done a pretty bad job at plowing our road. So I text my staff and tell them not to come in, and I get on the phone to start canceling patients. They all said they were about to call and cancel anyway.

So aside from yet another lost day of productivity, I am also faced with the problem of where to reschedule all these people. I didn’t want to push them out a month, so I ended up squeezing them in next week during times I generally go to the hospital to do rounds or at the end of my “short day.”

So what do you do when Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate?

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