Newspaper column on dissatisfying ER visit creates confusion, dismay
Flush with pride at the solid performance of his emergency room in a national survey of patients treated in ERs in similar size hospitals, Tim Walsh, the Martha's Vineyard Hospital (MVH) chief executive found himself faced with a mystery last week, after he read an essay published in the June 8 Vineyard Gazette, titled "In Emergency, ER stands for Eternity Room," by Jerry Zezima.
The essay described the poor treatment Mr. Zezima and his wife, who was suffering an allergic reaction to medication, received during a three hour and 20 minute visit to a hospital ER.
Mr. Walsh and Dr. Timothy Tsai, director of Martha's Vineyard Hospital's emergency services department, assumed Mr. Zezima was writing about MVH, and in keeping with the Vineyard hospital's practice, they set out to investigate the complaint. The officials looked but could not find any record of Mr. Zezima or his wife visiting the Vineyard ER, or any written complaint about an experience there.
On further investigation, the hospital officials learned that Mr. Zezima is a syndicated humor columnist based in Long Island. His column in Friday's Gazette was about a hospital on Long Island that treated Mr. Zezima's wife.
Dr. Tsai said he resented the confusion that might leave readers thinking Mr. Zezima's account described the performance of Dr. Tsai's department. Dr. Tsai said he believed the Vineyard Gazette had a professional obligation to properly inform readers that what appeared to be a letter to the editor was a column by a professional writer who is not an Island resident and that the essay was not about MVH.
"I almost don't know what to think when I see something like the letter to the editor in the Gazette," said Dr. Tsai in an email to The Times. "Never mind the breach of professional standards in failing to note that this was a letter reprinted from another newspaper, not noting that he was a professional writer, not an Island resident, that the letter was about a hospital on Long Island, that the guy had never even been to the Island. At first I thought that it was just poor oversight by the editor, but the more I thought about it against the background of what the writer e-mailed one of our nursing staff, it seemed deliberate."
Dr. Tsai said the column is unfortunate and cast a cloud over a group of dedicated and hardworking doctors, nurses, unit secretaries and technicians.
Mr. Zezima works as an editor and a staff writer for Newsday of Long Island, N.Y. and writes a standing column for the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He also writes a humor column for his hometown newspaper The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut and is a regular contributor to the Vineyard Gazette.
Speaking from his office on Long Island, Mr. Zezima Tuesday said he received an e-mail from ER nurse Rick Lambos expressing concern that many readers thought the column was about the Vineyard. Mr. Zezima told The Times that he was at fault for not putting his affiliation with the Stamford Advocate on the ER piece sent to Gazette editor Julia Wells.
"I am sorry that the good folks up there thought I was referring to Martha's Vineyard Hospital, which I was not," he said.
Mr. Zezima said that he was writing about a hospital on Long Island. "The confusion was certainly regrettable," he said, "so the folks up there can continue to have pride in Martha's Vineyard Hospital."
Mr. Zezima said that he has never been on the Vineyard, but would love to visit and see every place on the Island except the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, unless it is a social visit. "And if unfortunately I ever did need the services of the emergency room," he said, "I know I would be treated quickly."
Ms. Wells did not return a message left on her voice mail Tuesday seeking comment.