Apprehension, dread, nervousness, fear, caution, uncomfortable, and worry. These are all too common feelings and emotions among patients entering into their local public hospital. With each entry, there is a long shadowed storyline unknown to the passerby or the receptionist at the desk, logging one of many patients for the day. For some, the entire experience can feel unnatural, clinical, and downright impersonal and, at times, even cold. Such a scenario did not greet me on a cool Wednesday morning at the Lompoc Hospital.
“No enterprise can exist for itself alone. It ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others."
- Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
I am an Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with 28 years of active duty service to this nation. For the past three decades, I have visited hospitals in several states across the nation. From the deep south of Louisiana and South Carolina, above the Mason Dixon line in Pennsylvania, into the heart of America in Kansas City, Missouri, and Nebraska, to overseas locations in South Korea, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Even the austere location in the Middle East. With these medical experiences as my filter to the world, I had my doubts when I received a referral from Vandenberg Air Force Base to the Lompoc Hospital for an MRI. Before we moved here, my fellow officers all had the same advice for choosing a location for our homestead and schooling for children. “Look north and avoid Lompoc.” Despite this poor advice, we settled on a beautiful home in the Lompoc Valley. The area has grown on us immensely, culminating in the decision to retire here and call this our new home. A big deal for a couple from the Northeast. My childhood thoughts of California were influenced by the valley girl accent, surfer dudes, flip-flops and granola, and the odd character of Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Most of these stereotypes were found false, but a sprinkle of truth here and there.
The aforementioned emotions of dread and worry accompanied me as I turned off Ocean Street into the parking lot of the Lompoc Hospital. Even with the beautiful temperature of 67 degrees, a cool breeze, and a warm café americano in my hand, previous bad experiences numbed these pleasantries to the point that they weren’t even felt in the frontal lobes of my mind. You see, my last MRI in England was a complete nightmare and an emotional event for me.
In 2009, Royal Air Force Base Mildenhall near Cambridge, England was my duty stationed and I received a referral for an MRI in the local National Health Service (NHS) hospital in Harrogate. A beautiful historic town with a history and remnants of the Roman Empire, a Royal Pump Room, and spa resorts in the Montpellier Quarter. For us in America unfamiliar with the NHS, it is socialized care. Meaning, it is a free service for the citizens of England. Under the Status of Forces Agreement, I was authorized to use this service. The opinions for and against socialized medicine is not the intent in this testimony. Rather, remind the citizens of Lompoc how lucky they are to have the amazing healthcare system at their local hospital next to Home Depot.
When you walk into an average NHS hospital in the European Union, there are few amenities for comfort, personalized care, nor aesthetics for the eye. I was met with cracked walls, dimly lit hallways, and a sense that a speedy exit of my physical body out the nearest exit would please the staff since there were so many to serve. Dare I say, I felt like I was transported back to the Cold War era, and I was behind the iron curtain.
The staff was not friendly, the procedure was rushed, uncomfortable, with clearly antiquated machinery. In short, an experience that left me unraveled for three days.
And so it is for service members stationed overseas. Epiphanies and awakenings. Because, occasionally, we realize how good we have it in American hospitals. This awakening occurred to me when I snuck up to the second floor of the NHS hospital. You see, this was a restricted area for those that pay for “private healthcare.” A luxury for those with an extra 50 Pound Sterling notes with the image of Queen Elizabeth II in their leather wallets. When the elevator opened, I was met with beautiful music, lush carpet, nicely decorated walls, and a fish tank with tropical fish. In short, I was transported to a luxury hotel near the English Channel. And within 15 seconds, a nurse quickly explained to me that this was for “members only” and I should hit the down arrow in the elevator.
And here is the main point for the hospital staff and local Lompoc residents: The Lompoc Hospital is better than England’s privatized medicine. Did you not see the mural out front? How clean the parking lot was or the attention to detail in the landscaping? And what of the fact that the receptionist is right at the front door so you aren’t lost or wait? Did you not see the decorated floor, the beautiful art, the plush furniture, the meditation gardens, the well-structured cafeteria? For those getting an MRI, the beautiful wall of handmade pottery and modern art displayed across the walls, color-coordinated and arranged like an art studio in New York City. The average “Lompocian” takes these niceties for granted. I did not. I felt like the elevator to the second floor opened and I was handed an Americano and greeted with a smile. I left there refreshed, cared for, and happy.
In the Air Force, the core values are “Integrity First, Service before Self, and Excellence in all we do.” Well done Lompoc Hospital, for you, met all three. At the Lompoc Hospital, you feel like it is for “members only”. For us Lompocians, of which I now consider myself one, the membership is America, your comfort and care matters, and customer service is just normal business.
In the words of Jeff Spicoli, “So what Jefferson was saying was ‘Hey, you know we left this England place because it was bogus. So, if we don’t get some cool rules ourselves, pronto, we’ll just be bogus too.’ Yeah?”
A new Lompoc resident