Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of ER's and Airlines

I began Tuesday by looking for some local media coverage of the 'Gasland' screening the previous evening that I couldn't attend.

Finding none (grrrr), I did locate several items that resonated with me and are likely of some significance to all of us:

I've traveled on airplanes a lot over the last several years. A lot of that flying has been on jetBlue, because of convenient flight times, destinations, reasonable fares, and amenities that make the flight go by faster. No bag fees and free satellite TV are big pluses.

I've never encountered a situation like the one that resulted in the flight attendant becoming fed up, which has dominated the Internet chatter since Tuesday and perhaps become its own example of what one online commenter called "narcissistic, impatient, and self-centered".

A lot of people have a large measure of sympathy for Steven Slater; knowing the nature of the airline business, a meltdown such as his might be understandable given the awesome responsibilities, business pressures, and working conditions conducted in the face of an unsympathetic and at times hostile customer base. One could say the same about public safety personnel, especially police officers.

Nevertheless, jetBlue, its customers, and the FAA had expectations of Mr. Slater when he put on that uniform and stepped onto that aircraft in Pittsburgh. Based on other news reports, he may have been on his last nerve even before his initial run-in with the (inexplicably) still-nameless passenger over carry-on luggage.

In the end, Mr. Slater failed to meet those expectations in a most egregious manner. Regardless of how the details are spun or how much sympathy people may have for him, there will be consequences for his failure. To borrow from the sometimes nebulous parlance of today's Human Resources profession, I wish him the best in his future endeavors.

In defense of the remainder of his profession, I believe that a large measure of what a business gets from its customers rests very much on how the employees feel about working there. With the airlines, I'm always intrigued at the different ways that they operate, and how that affects the overall flying experience. Based on all of that, I can say that jetBlue is pretty cool, but that Southwest still has them all beat.

Another profession that is on the front lines of our collective community safety net is the nursing profession, especially those that staff our nation's emergency rooms. I've known numerous ER nurses over my working life, and they are truly a breed apart in terms of their level of commitment, expertise, and general approach to life and living.

ER nurses see the best and worst of what comprises our society; these metrics do not follow the lines of social or economic status. In an AP story from Tuesday, assaults on ER nurses are on the increase, and mental health and substance abuse programs are being cut at a time when economic pressures stand to result in increased drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and as a consequence, ER visits.

Many ER nurses are fed up, and are pursuing criminal charges against those patients that assault, grope, or spit on them in the course of trying to assess their injuries or render care. Nursing groups such as the Emergency Nurses Association are lobbying state legislatures for tougher laws, including making assaulting a health care professional a felony.

The AP story quoted a representative from the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety about the need for hospitals to re-think their approaches to safety and security in the ER environment. As someone with a lot of experience working in hospitals, I understand the need to devote considerable time and energy to develop policies and practices that optimize the mission and goals of health care organizations.

However, I think that hospitals need to use these opportunities to partner with experts outside of the industry to develop community-based plans for responding to and handling issues in the ER and hospital environment. Hospital security personnel, the majority of whom are not sworn law enforcement officers, should have core competencies in managing critical incidents that dovetail with incident management practices already being used by their local public safety agencies.

Like I've said before, I haven't had any personal experience with uncivil behavior on an airplane, but I've seen enough bad behavior in ER's to last me just fine. Either way, we as citizens and human beings have some responsibilities in these areas, so I'll conclude with my ideas on this:
  • BEHAVE. If you encounter behavior that is an affront to your sensibilities, attempt to deal with the situation calmly, avoid physical confrontation or personal attacks, and try to remember details; names, dates and times, locations, what was said, etc.
  • DOCUMENT what happened, whether it be a police report, letter to management or government agency, or just a personal narrative for later action. Include the details. Be articulate, forthright, and unemotional. Insist on a reply and follow-up action.

With that, enjoy your fellow human beings the rest of this week and the weekend ahead. Some ideas for healthy camaraderie that you might find me at this weekend include the Friday night Glade Park Fire Dept. Movies Under the Stars (still the best family entertainment around), and KAFM's RadioDaze event Saturday at the Kannah Creek Brewery.

Take care.

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