On her second day on the job, Jennifer Leifer found herself in a private consult room with a surgeon and a patient’s family member, to whom the surgeon had just delivered devastating news. “I had tissues, water and hugs for her,” Leifer recalls of the time. She also helped the shaken woman make a call.
Leifer is a nine-year veteran of Valley Health System, serving the hospital first as a business associate in the Operating Room — where one of her primary goals was to ensure waiting families were comfortable — and now as a patient-family representative, a role she assumed in February. She and fellow patient-family representative, Jennifer DelliCarpini, who worked in Same Day Surgery, offer a wide range of support services to families whose loved ones are undergoing surgical procedures.
From 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., one of “the Jennifers,” as they’ve been dubbed, is on duty. “Their job is to inform the families about their loved ones, before they begin to wonder by giving them timely updates, and get them anything they need,” says Mary Sudano, R.N., manager of Same Day Surgery, Post Anesthesia Care Units, and Patient Family Representatives at Valley. They regularly update families on patient progress, escort family members to the recovery room, address any religious or cultural needs, secure beds for those who want to stay overnight and, as Leifer discovered early into the job, provide a shoulder to lean on in tough times.
“I love every minute of my job,” says Leifer. “I love taking care of people and being able to provide aid and comfort.”
Compassion in Health Care
Valley’s new surgical patient-family representative positions were made possible though a generous gift from Mary Clark, M.D. — a pediatrician at Valley Hospital for almost 30 years — who had been searching for a way to both honor her parents and improve the patient and family experience. Mary’s father, Dr. Charles Clark, was a general surgeon at Valley and headed the surgical department for years. Her mother, Dr. Margaret Clark, was a family physician who later became a surgical assistant who worked alongside her husband at Valley, providing extra TLC to their surgical patients.
Mary’s gift from the Charles and Margaret Clark Family Fund has not only funded the patient-family representative positions; it also created a surgical services chair. Thomas Ahlborn, M.D., will be the first Drs. Charles and Margaret Clark Chair for Surgical Services.
Continually improving the patient and family’s surgical experience will be an ongoing process at Valley involving physicians, staff, and patients. “The most important thing to Charlie and Margaret was ensuring patients had the best possible results — not just their surgery, but also the whole experience,” says Dr. Ahlborn, who practiced with Dr. Charles Clark for many years. “They would be proud of Mary’s choice to fund a program that enhances the human experience.”
“The results have been tremendous improvements in communication, and the families’ comments about the patient-family representatives have been wonderful,” Sudano says, who often hears from patients and families that Valley is really putting the human touch back into medicine—sentiments that would also surely win the approval of the Clarks. “Margaret and Charles Clark did wonderful things for this hospital and this community,” Sudano says. “And they still are.”
Caption: Thomas Ahlborn, M.D., the first Drs. Charles and Margaret Clark Chair for Surgical Services; with Mary Clark, M.D., whose generous gift in honor of her parents established the Chair and two new patient-family representative positions at The Valley Hospital.