Staff at Merced's new Mercy Medical Center garner gripes

MERCED — Mercy Medical Center boasts a brand-new hospital, bigger and better than the old one.

Or does it? The new hospital on North G Street is much bigger, cleaner and more patient-friendly than the old one. But some patients have said the attitude of its staff is bad, just as it was at the old hospital.

Letters to the editor received by the Merced Sun-Star in the past week have listed such complaints as staff snapping at patients, leaving seriously ill patients to wait for hours and not allowing family members to be with patients.

Administration officials at Mercy said Wednesday that they had expected patient numbers to rise but weren't prepared for them to go up so quickly.

"We're seeing an almost 20 percent increase (in patients) in the emergency room that has gone on since the doors first opened," said Carl Valenti, director of emergency services at Mercy.

The new hospital opened May 2. Since then the emergency department has often seen more than 200 patients a day. Valenti said the old hospital's emergency room saw an average of 150 patients.

Deidre Hegarty, vice president for nursing at Mercy, said when the move was made to the new hospital, the hospital was unprepared for the sharp and sudden increase in patients.

"We anticipated the patient numbers would go up over a couple of months," Hegarty said. "We have hired 42 registered nurses who are in orientation this week.

Of those nurses, six are slated to go to work in the emergency room, Hegarty said. Before the move, 10 nurses had been hired, she added, in addition to the 42 scheduled to start next week.

Where to take complaints

Hegarty and Valenti said they hadn't heard any complaints from patients about the hospital. Hegarty urged people to bring their complaints to the hospital.

"We have not been aware of any issues," Hegarty said. "We have avenues that people can use if they have complaints."

She said patients or their families in the hospital can ask for the nurse manager of the department or the director of the department.

"We have a patient advocate in the hospital who is willing to take calls at any time," Hegarty said. "If it's the middle of the night, they can request to speak to a house supervisor."

Addressing the complaints about staff rudeness, Hegarty said Mercy's employees show a strong service initiative.

"We believe in treating all our customers the best way we can," she said. "Our staff has been through a lot of training."

Hegarty and Valenti said part of the problem with the emergency room is the number of patients who come there who don't need to be in an ER.

"Our emergency room is here all the time," Valenti said. "However, we want people to start learning that our specialty is emergency care. Some of the huge volume we are seeing is urgent care and nonurgent care clients. They can best be treated by urgent cares or by their own physician."

Since the move took the hospital away from South Merced, Mercy has expanded the hours of its clinics on 13th Street. They are open later during the week and have Saturday and Sunday hours. Despite that, on the weekend of May 8-9, only one patient showed up at the 13th Street clinic. Last weekend, there were five patients.

"We want people to use our clinics," Valenti said.