A Crisis in Confidence

A Mendocino Coast District Hospital ED experience:

A Contrast in Care by Marianne McGee, MA/ABS

I was into my fifth week with a cold/bronchitis and had finally resorted to taking antibiotics after consuming packages of cold medicines, which did not heal me.  On Thursday morning, January 18, I had made a mad dash to the bathroom, figuring I was experiencing a common side effect of the antibiotics.  One moment was I sitting on the throne, the next I found myself waking up flat out on the floor; with no idea how long I was unconscious.  I had hit the side of my head when I passed out and I couldn’t lift my head without becoming extremely dizzy.  Additionally, I felt my fingers and toes starting to go numb and cold.  It took me about 45 minutes to drag myself about 15 feet to my bed and telephone.

 When Terry came to the rescue, we realized that I was probably dehydrated and had hardly eaten any food for days.  So, we tried filling me up with vitamin water and some high protein snacks.  By Thursday evening I was able to get to the bathroom and back without help, so thought I was better.  Friday morning I was in worse shape again, not even able to raise my head or sit up in bed without feeling too dizzy to move.  Terry brought me more liquids to battle the dehydration and I could not urinate or get out of bed all day and well into the evening.

I finally realized I had to get to the hospital.   A bloody explosion occurred as we were trying to see if we could get me up to go to the Mendocino Coast District Hospital (MCDH) Emergency Department (ED).  So, about 11:00 PM, after trying to clean me up, we called 911 as it was clear I could not move on my own.  Initially the Fort Bragg Fire Department arrived, as there was no ambulance immediately available, to gather the details and keeping me calm during the wait.  In fact, it appeared the Westport Fire Department was dispatched although a MCDH vehicle was soon freed up and on its way.  It took 5 Firemen and 2 EMT’s to get me out to the ambulance, as my house has narrow exits.

Now you may wonder why a well educated woman, who is well connected to the local medical community, would wait 36 hours before accessing medical care.  Not even contacting her primary health care provider, especially after passing out, hitting her head and trying to cope with all these horrendous symptoms.   First of all, for about the last four years as Mendocino TV, we have videoed, reported on and editorialized on the various MCDH Board of Directors meetings.  During this time I have learned a great deal about the many problems with the facility and its operations.

I have also had negative experiences at MCDH. Two and a half years ago I spent 20 hours in that Emergency Department advocating for an extremely ill friend and was appalled by many things that happened as his life was in jeopardy, before he was shipped out.  I suffered two rounds of painful nerve treatments in my knees in the surgical suite, without any anesthesia the first time and over medicated too late the second time.  Additionally, many people have told me their local Emergency Department horror stories because they know that I video all these meetings and am well informed.  While I have never publicized their stories I have encouraged them to follow up with MCDH staff.  While most people do not follow up, one person did who was upset with the ED, although had high praise for his post surgical care.  He received a letter back basically negating his experience that was written on stationary from a San Francisco hospital.  While some stories are very old, most have happened in the last 2 ½ years, while MCDH has been in a state of chaos.

By the time I finally arrived at the hospital I was in very poor condition.  The good news is that my experience, in the 16 hours I spent in the Emergency Department, was very positive.  They quickly realized I had severe internal bleeding and needed a specialized surgeon as soon as possible.  Due to some particular health conditions I have, it was very difficult for them to find a surgeon who would take me with an available hospital bed, especially as it was a holiday weekend!   With blood transfusions and fluids they were able to stabilize me in the ED while they worked diligently to accommodate my specific needs. 

Since I did not ever go to sleep, as daylight arrived the ED shifted into high gear and there is no privacy. I was able to watch and listen to the staff, including Dr. Serrahn, competently treat a variety of people with problems.  Additionally, I must sing the praises of both the MCDH Ambulance crews, especially the Ryan Rhodes,  who took me to Enloe Hospital, where I received the most outstanding care I have ever received anywhere!  I also want to commend the Fort Bragg Fire Fighters who answered my call.  It was a potentially embarrassing and difficult situation and they handled me with grace and respect.  While I was terribly anxious about needing to go to the hospital, they did a great job of listening to me and keeping me calm.

So, why did I wait 36 hours?  The reason I did not contact my provider is that she would have sent me to MCDH Emergency Department and I was deathly afraid of going there, hoping to heal myself.   In addition to the negative experiences sited earlier I have become fearful of receiving care from some medical personnel.  MCDH Directors, staff members and contractors have often ranted in these Board of Director meetings claiming the only problems MCDH has are these unnamed terrible people spreading vague rumors in the community, often while staring at us.  Others have simply stopped speaking to or ignoring us.

At the January 24th Special Board meeting President Arnold spoke of the need for the community to speak and act respectively as they communicate with the Board.  I think that needs to specifically also relate to Directors, Medical Personnel and Staff.  The overwhelming fear I felt over those 36 hours, as I fought to heal myself, was because I was concerned that I would be treated incompetently or by staff who resent the videos, reports and editorials we have shared with the community.  I hope the lectures and admonishments that have been delivered with rancor with unspecified claims against unspecified citizens stops.

There are clearly a myriad of serious issues and financial problems facing our hospital and it will take all of us to make our hospital healthy. Given the brave actions already taken by this new MCDH Board of Directors, President Arnold’s requests to treat each other respectively and the healthy interactive discussions that occurred at the MCDH Finance Committee, I am hopeful.


  1. Your article makes mention of “Enroe” hospital. Do you mean “Enloe’ in Chico?

  2. Thank you for sharing your story with us and I hope and pray you are feeling much better and are now healed and over the worst of it. I, too received immediate and helpful care, a large part due to Dr. Serrahn at the “ER” at MCDH last May and my ailment, symptoms seem quite similar, including uncontrollable bleeding.

    My fear and anxiety at having no choice, but, being treated at our local hospital was beyond overwhelming to me and I sincerely thought I was going to die there, as my husband had .

    My husband walked into the MCDH “ER” with acute stomach pain the evening of May 10th, 2016 and was immediately given pain medication and ultimately morphine to ease the pain, but – to no avail. We thought he had an intestinal blockage, but, upon finally receiving a ‘cat scan’ at 2:34 am it was discovered that it was more serious as he had an intestinal ‘tear’ and this acid was leaking into his stomach cavity, hence the excruciating and unbearable pain! At this point, they were still deciding where to send my husband and what to do…they wanted to put him in an ambulance to the city…meanwhile I was ‘jumping out of my skin’ to send him via helicopter as with his violent pain, an ambulance ride would take too long.
    My husband was finally flown out…the following morning after 5 more hours of this – at 7:30 am…this is after being at the ER since after 9:30 pm the night before.
    When the flight crew loaded up my very tall husband into the helicopter one of the nurses asked me, “How long has he been like this”…I knew we were in very big trouble!!
    I walked out to the tarmac and said goodbye to my husband…I then rushed home to get showered and get my daughter off to school – made sure there were groceries in the house, made arrangements for my daughter after school and got my dog to the “sitter” and rented a car and made it to UCSF by that evening…I spoke to my husband’s surgeon on the way, as soon as I was able to get cell service along the highway, – she explained how very sick my husband was…he just underwent a 7 hour surgery to try to close up the leaking, separated intestine…my husband was in the intensive care unit of UCSF…he was unconscious and on life support…my husband passed away from Sepsis…he wasn’t treated in time, wasn’t flown out in time…you are supposed to respond/treat sepsis in the 1st one to four hours…not 10 hours…they were sorry at UCSF – but, they simply did NOT receive him in time…

    Since that day…the attending physician was ‘let go’ and the ER’s contract was awarded to a new company…Robin Serrahn suggested I go to ‘Grief’ group – which I did for the 1st couple of years…to learn of more community injustices and doctor incompetence…which is an entirely new tragedy of events…

    My wonderful husband was from Sweden with the best health care in the world to come to this 1st world country to be treated with 3rd world healthcare choices…this was not the fault of UCSF – this was the delays and incompetence of our local MCDH!!

    BTW: When setting into action an inquiry/investigation of my husband’s death – I was met by threats from MCDH attorney’s based out of Eureka!! They not only threatened me with retaliation if I dared to proceed with any kind of action – they diminished the value of my husband’s life due to his age…he passed at 71 years old…

    We had beautiful plans for our future and my retirement – including moving to Sweden for 6 months out of the year and my daughter going to the University there – instead I am here raising my teenage daughter alone and struggling daily with the loss of my beloved husband…

    …still crying
    Joan Hammarback

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. It does say something about our health care when your husband was born into one of the best systems and lost his life at the sorry system we struggle with. Thank you for sharing with me and our audience.

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