About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star
How’s the victim doing? Mary Washington now has the answer
Careful readers may have noticed something different about the newspaper’s coverage in recent weeks: Three times since Christmas we’ve included in our stories sentences about the condition of hospitalized accident victims.
The reason is a change of policy at Mary Washington Hospital. For many years those at Mary Washington cited privacy concerns and declined to provide reporters with any information about the condition of people brought there after accidents. It’s well known here in the newsroom that it’s no use calling the hospital since no one there will tell you anything.
I first noticed a difference in late December when I called Debbie McInnis, spokeswoman for the hospital, about a coach who had collapsed of cardiac arrest during a basketball tournament at Brooke Point High School. Many people witnessed his collapse, and several came to his aid. A natural question from anyone who knew him, or saw the event, or read about it, was: How’s he doing?
McInnis called back to say that the coach was in stable condition, and Justin Rice, the reporter, included that in his story.
It happened again about a week later when a city school bus was involved in a wreck. Several children were taken to Mary Washington. I called McInnis to ask how they were doing. She said that six students had been brought to the hospital, and that they were treated for minor injuries. Keith Epps included those facts in his story.
And last week, a woman drove into an icy pond in Westmoreland County. Several people risked their lives to pull her from her car. The woman was taken to Mary Washington, and McInnis was able to tell our reporter, Kelly Hannon, that she was in critical condition. The woman died later.
The stories seemed a lot more complete with these details, and I wondered what had happened at the hospital. Had there been a change of policy?
At first, I was afraid to ask for fear that I might jinx it, but I held my breath and sent an e-mail to McInnis. She replied that the change occurred about three months ago, that the hospital wanted to bring its policy in line with the recommendations of the American Hospital Association.
“As long as we have had the name of the patient and the attending feel they have assessed enough to share the condition, we can,” she said.