Are You Just Giving Lip Service?

Are You Just Giving Lip Service to Being a Medical Clinic?

Skeptical? She hadn’t told me she was skeptical. So I didn’t know the board member who chaired our medical conversion team was skeptical when we headed to the Focus on the Family RIM (Regional Information Meeting) in Louisville, KY, in August 2007.

A certified nurse-midwife, who now teaches at Vanderbilt, Dr. Susan Saunders later confessed that she wasn’t sure that I, or others on our team, fully appreciated the scope of our undertaking. But when speaker after speaker stressed, “You are not just adding sonography—you are becoming a medical clinic,” Susan said her mind began to be set at ease.

As Providence would have it, Susan moved on, and our team went through many personnel changes. Recognizing how much I had to learn, I availed myself of every opportunity, meeting regularly with other EDs and attending national and regional conferences.

I found myself discussing the same topics repeatedly in conversations with other EDs. As I now see the bullets listed in black and white below, it looks like we were all just giving lip service to being a medical clinic:

  • Should we call the women we serve clients or patients? (When is the last time your doctor called you a client?)
  • How does your center handle our service flow? (How many times have you been to a doctor’s office that did not have a systematic flow?)
  • Frustrations in seeing so few women facing pregnancy decisions—(Does anyone visit a doctors’ office who doesn’t have a medical concern?)
  • Discouragement from the entitlement mentality conveyed by many who primarily sought material assistance—(How many times have you heard people demand material assistance from a doctor’s office?)

Little did I realize then how much of our conversations were like the blind leading the blind. Most of us called the women who came for pregnancy testing and ultrasound patients, and those coming for classes and material assistance clients. We’d hear about operational flow or other service options being followed at a center that sounded good, and we’d try it, not really thinking about rationale or knowing anything about how to plan strategically or how to determine expected outcomes so we could evaluate effectiveness.

In 2011, we knew we were not accomplishing our mission. If you’d asked me, I’d have been emphatic that we were a pregnancy medical clinic.

What we didn’t know was how much we were putting not just Life Choices at risk, but PMCs all across the United States. Though we conducted volunteer training, we did not know what was being said behind closed doors. A PMC leader said once that “your organization is only as strong as your weakest volunteer behind closed doors with a client with a hidden camera.” That thought scared me. But not as much as it should have. While I was dissatisfied that we were not being the change agent I felt God had called us to be, I didn’t think we were really at risk.

And then it happened. A center just a few hours away made national news. And the video clips featured some of the same material we used. While we’d thought we were providing objective, non-biased information, seeing it televised from an angle, with a clear agenda, it suddenly didn’t look so objective. It looked as if the volunteer had an agenda.

 I put myself in her shoes. How would I feel if I went to a doctor’s office, and it seemed like he had a treatment agenda? What if I felt he was biased? Would I wonder why he was withholding information? Would I trust he had my best interests at heart?

 The news reporter on TV called that PMC a fake clinic. A fake clinic. Dreadful emotions swept over me. That PMC could have been ours. I prayed for the ED and her team, heavy-hearted for what they must have been going through. I prayed for the undercover client and the reporter, that God would open their eyes to the truth, in spite of the lack of credibility displayed.

God calls us to be blameless. Above reproach.

At the end of 2011, we went through the Linear Shared Decision Making (LSDM) course with Connie Ambrecht. During that course, I realized that I had not truly embraced that we were, in fact, a medical clinic.

Like so many PMC EDs, I had tried to walk the fence of being both a PMC and a PRC—which was why we wanted to call the women we served patients when they came for medical services, but clients when they came for classes or materials. How unlike a physician’s office—which may offer classes or give samples or other items, but when they do, they don’t stop calling us patients and start calling us clients.

Though from the beginning, I’d recognized that all of our services fell under the license of our medical director, because I didn’t personally have a medical background, I had been reluctant to think of myself as “the executive director of a medical clinic.” I was much more comfortable being the ED of a pregnancy resource center.

But the thing about PRCs is that they are, by definition, agenda-driven.

And medical clinics, by definition, are patient-driven.

The LSDM course empowered me to finally embrace who God had called me to be: the ED of a medical clinic, a pregnancy medical clinic.

That paradigm shift changed everything. No longer did we find ourselves tossed about by every wind of new idea that came along.

We learned to use a decision guide to empower the patient to consider the decision she faced and the options she was considering. Not every patient is considering every option. We learned to use the guide to help her to think through the risks and benefits of each option and how important each option was to her, how much she really knew about each option, as well as who was involved in the decision. Then, rather than our volunteers and staff dumping everything we knew on her, we were able to take the needs she had shared with us and use that as a basis for the information we shared with her. The process empowered her to take ownership of her decision. It was no longer about us trying to convince her of anything.

The LSDM course taught me to lead our team to be solutions-driven in our decision-making about everything we did. And it empowered us to truly be who we said we were: a Pregnancy Medical Clinic.

Reni Bumpas,
Former Executive Director
Life Choices Medical Clinic
Dyersburg, TN

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