As a fresh-faced college undergrad studying Communications and Public Relations, I often dreamed of a fascinating job that involved celebrities, world travel, my name printed on a book cover…you know, the stuff of movies. While my reality turned out a little different, I found professional fulfillment working in health care marketing and communications.
I have counted my many professional blessings over the years, being a part of projects and organizations that constantly remind me to appreciate my family and friends, my health and my community. When I started my own business, I gained an even deeper appreciation for flexibility, responsibility and the satisfaction that can come from helping clients tell their story.
Some days, my work is work…but some days my work is a privilege. Today was most definitely a privilege. I had the opportunity to hear Sorrell King address a room of health care professionals. She is a woman I admire for so many reasons.
In patient safety circles around the world, Sorrell King’s heartbreaking story has inspired a movement. Fifteen years ago this month, her 18-month-old daughter died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Josie King had suffered burns in a bathtub and was well on her way to recovery…only days from being discharged from the hospital.
Then, in what can only be considered every family’s worst nightmare, a series of communication breakdowns and medical errors among the caregivers entrusted with her care led to Josie’s death. As a parent, it is heart-breaking to think about losing a child at all…let alone in such a preventable way.
To hear Sorrell King recall the experience and her feelings of guilt, grief and overwhelming anger during that ordeal is difficult. To hear how the King family turned this tragedy into a touchstone event for an entire industry is remarkable. In their darkest hours, the Kings turned a tragedy into a force for good. As I listened to her speak, I was struck by Sorrel King’s candor and her unwavering belief that a culture that supports good communication leads to better, safer care.
Health care, at its core, is always about the patient. As the Josie King story reminds us, in health care organizations, communication breakdowns can cost lives. What seems like a simple concept – good communication – is actually a huge hurdle for hospitals, both large and small, to overcome. Sorrell King has a fierce determination to change the culture of health care, beginning with communicating openly about our mistakes. We can’t improve if we don’t acknowledge what went wrong. And in this time of increased access to data and research, it is still the power of a personal story that can change hearts and minds.
Much of the work that the Josie King Foundation has funded in the years since its formation have been focused on improving communications. Sharing Josie King’s story was really just the beginning. Sorrell King has worked tirelessly over the past 15 years to initiate conversations with doctors, nurses, patients and families about ways to communicate better, more clearly and without fear in the sprit of delivering better and safer patient care. Ambitious, yes, but if anyone can tackle the challenge head on – Sorrell King and the Josie King Foundation are in the best position to bring us all along.
Sorrell King’s passion is contagious and her message is powerful. I’m in awe of her courage and the entire audience was touched by her honesty and enthusiasm.
Her story has certainly changed my heart.