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Re-evaluation of roles needed for health reform

Health care reform requires a comprehensive re-examination of our shared responsibilities both in Durham and across the Unites States, a local hospital administrator said Thursday.

Kerry Watson, president of Durham Regional Hospital, spoke with Dean of the Chapel Sam Wells Thursday about health care challenges. The talk was the fourth and final installment in the Chapel’s lecture series “Dean’s Dialogues: Listening to the Heart of Durham.”

Watson explained the ways in which his career path has shaped his approach toward health care and management. When he was a young man, he participated in a job opportunity program for underprivileged youth at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hospital system, where he experienced the menial aspects of hospital operations, such as cleaning the facilities.

“I have worked in the trenches of a hospital, which I think has given me a unique perspective on the so-called ‘lower levels,’” Watson said, noting that each employee, regardless of position, plays a crucial role in ensuring that every patient receives quality care.

When asked by Wells about his approach to improving the quality of patient care, Watson explained that hospital workers need to show empathy toward patients, stressing the need for “sensitivity and responsiveness” in order to view the patient as a person and not merely a disease to be treated, as practitioners are often trained to do.

With regard to more controversial health care issues on the national stage, Watson explained his concern with growing socioeconomic gaps in care delivery. He cited the inadequacy of primary care as a contributing factor to stresses on emergency rooms, which he has witnessed in Durham Regional.

“The difficulty is how to accept that the system needs to change,” Watson said, adding that vague notions of responsibility among the many participants in health care—such as hospitals, patients and insurance companies—contribute to the problem.

The stakes are high, Watson noted, predicting that the nation will face a “system of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’” unless it forms the necessary partnerships between physicians, patients, primary care givers, insurance companies and government to confront an aging population with fewer resources and caregivers.

In his capacity as president of Durham Regional, Watson has spearheaded efforts to foster accountability among these groups in order to improve the quality of care.

He explained a project aimed at training and educating patients to monitor their health outside the hospital in order to combat the significantly higher rates of readmission they saw among poorer patients. Watson said this project led to a 50 percent decrease in readmission rates—a triumph for the hospital’s efforts to make individuals feel more responsible for their own health.

“If you expand that as a practice process beyond that small group, you can imagine what we can be doing to help people take control of their own health,” he said.

Watson stressed this individual responsibility with regard to Durham, where he said that a sense of despair and low expectations prevails among the socioeconomically disadvantaged. Nurturing a sense of personal accountability in the medical arena is merely one element of empowering people to improve their vision for what they can accomplish in life, he noted.

Jordan Thomas, a prospective freshman visiting campus, said he can understand how Watson’s background enabled him to better empathize with patients.

“It is inspiring how Mr. Watson had a story about conquering the despair he found in Durham to rise to the position he has in his administration,” he said.


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