Making Room for Dignity

Gene Keller, M.D.

As a physician and retired Dignity Health executive, Gene Keller, M.D., knew that shared hospital rooms were far from ideal. It wasn’t until he experienced a life-changing injury, and spent nearly two weeks rehabbing in the Acute Rehabilitation Center at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, that he felt firsthand the impact on healing and the loss of dignity that occurs when patients must share a room.

In August, 80-year-old Dr. Keller fell down a flight of stairs while teaching at a healthcare university in Santa Maria, rupturing both quadriceps and patellar tendons. Paramedics whisked him to Marian Regional Medical Center where he underwent surgery. After a week in acute care, he was transferred to Arroyo Grande Community Hospital for rehabilitation. He shared a two-bed hospital room with another patient.

“Think about it; here I am lying in bed 24-7 with long leg splints, except when I’m out of bed in physical therapy,” Dr. Keller explained. “I had to sit on a toilet with the splints on. And my roommate, bless his soul, had to use the bathroom two or three times a night, and the bathroom was, of course, on my side of the room. So, we had conversations at 1:00 in the morning, 3:00 in the morning, and 4:30 in the morning. Can you imagine how that starts to feel when you’re in bed trying to rest?”

In acute rehab, when one patient is resting, the other is likely working with a therapist, sometimes with visitors in the small room. Patients might cough or cry at night, making sleep difficult for their roommate. Private healthcare discussions are easily overheard. 

“All of those things that make a difference to a patient were magnified when I was in rehab,” Dr. Keller said. “The time it was most undermining to my basic character was when I had to have procedures done, like cleaning me up, in a room that was not a private room. When there’s a thin curtain separating you from the rest of the activities going on, it doesn’t feel like you have privacy enough to maintain your dignity.”

A private room sets up a dignified environment where a bond can develop between patient and nurse or therapist. The commotion created in a two-patient room undermines that bond. In addition, scientific evidence proves that private rooms promote healing and positively impact a patient’s psychological and physical recovery.

While the experience was difficult and incredibly humbling, Dr. Keller insists that his care at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital was outstanding. 

“The staff is exceptional! I want to tell the staff there how grateful I am for the care that I received,” Dr. Keller said. “That’s the way it felt. They weren’t just changing my IV, they came in to see how I was doing, they understood who I was and my loss of dignity. They were excellent! The nurses spend significantly more time with you because you stay longer than an acute care hospital setting. They listen to you. It’s really different and I was very aware of it.”

Private patient rooms are a priority of the Excellence Campaign. Your contributions are necessary to make it a reality at Arroyo Grande Community Hospital. If you’d like to have a private room named after you or a loved one, we currently have naming opportunities remaining at $25,000 each, which can be pledged over three years. To donate, click here or contact us.