Jack Simpson - 02/20/09

I'm sitting in a soft, comfortable chair in a lobby looking out a large plate-glass window. The sun is shining, the sky is clear, and the American flag is flying in the breeze from a large pole on the edge of a circular driveway. The outside temperature is about 40 degrees, but here where I sit, it is about 20 degrees warmer.

Cars, vans and delivery trucks come and go dropping off and picking up passengers and cargo right outside the sliding doors. People move into and out of the building. Some look worried, concerned, frantic. Others chat and smile as if the cares they once shared have disappeared. It is a busy place.

Many individuals carry books, flowers, gifts or laundry bags. Men and women in white coats with identity badges scurry here and there or confer with family members. People push other people in wheelchairs. Everywhere are small containers and paper towels with instructions for hand washing. In the hallways individuals huddle in groups with caregivers. Others have clipboards and are filling out information forms.

You guessed it! I'm at one of metro Atlanta's hospitals about 50 miles from Rockdale County. I've visited so many of these places lately that I can tell you that some are good and some leave much room for improvement.

Today I happen to be in Fayetteville. I know 'cause I'm reading the labels on the ambulances arriving at the Emergency Room door. A family member rode one of these vehicles for emergency treatment and is now among the patients at what seems to be a professionally operated facility.

It is sad to see a once vigorous, church active, bridge player being told by her doctor that she may not be able to return to assisted living. She seems destined for a nursing home.

Old timers know this is a prognosis each faces somewhere down life's road. Perhaps it is the price of growing old. In any case, when the message arrives hopefully it will come from dedicated professionals like the ones observed at this hospital.

Meanwhile, family members can help comfort patients and provide needed information to providers so that healthcare errors may be avoided. No senior citizen with health problems wants to be helpless and dependent upon others for their care. Becoming a burden to anyone is the last thing on the mind of those riding in ambulances or sitting in the hospital waiting room watching Old Glory fly in the breeze on a pretty day.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author, and a law enforcement officer. His column appears each Friday.