“I remember saying to someone, ‘The only way I could ever settle this case is if Jimmy would stand with me and agree to change this hospital for the better. If we could combine our efforts and take the pain that he and his family had endured, and join it with us to improve the care of patients going forward. Then we could settle.’
So we asked if he would meet with us. And I met with him. And that’s really where all the headlines come: ‘She said she was sorry!’ Quite honestly I did nothing other than what my mother taught me. I think all too often in health care we evaluate, and we are counseled, and we read books upon books. But sometimes you just have to go back to your core value.
I faced a man who had lost his brother, a brother he had raised in the absence of a father. A brother who cared for an elderly mother while he was out doing his career. Someone who was very dear and close to his heart. When I met that man, I did not meet ‘James Woods.’ I met a family member who had lost a brother, because an order that was written by our emergency physician was not carried out by the staff.
‘Either you are a better actress than I am an actor, or I’m going to be coming after you.’
We did settle the case and we established the Michael J. Woods Institute, and the purpose of the institute is to redesign health care from a human factors perspective… What happened in our emergency department was: the combination of the process and the human fallibility and the design of the space all conspired to create that failure. And that’s the perspective that we all agreed to do. So I can’t tell you how to say you’re sorry. I can just tell you to do what feels right in your heart, because that’s what that moment was about…
When Jim and I started to talk, he very nicely looked at me and said, ‘Either you are a better actress than I am an actor, or I’m going to be coming after you.’ Because the words ‘I’m sorry and can we put this behind us and work forward’ are meaningless if you do nothing with it. They’re not words to be stated lightly, they are words that are meant to create change. So I was fortunate because I’m not as good an actress as he is an actor, which meant that I meant what I was saying, and we have made dramatic change in our emergency department, and hopefully in the future through the rest of our hospital.”