The Northern Navajo Medical Center’s customer service committee is creating a plan to improve service based on patient and employee complaints.
The Northern Navajo Medical Center's customer service committee is creating a plan to improve service based on patient and employee complaints. (Jenny Kane/The Daily Times)
SHIPROCK — The Northern Navajo Medical Center is working on its "pleases" and "thank yous."

The hospital's customer service committee is creating a plan to improve service based on patient and employee complaints.

The committee, composed of hospital employees who volunteer to serve, shared its ideas on improving the hospital environment with the hospital's health board Tuesday.

"It's really hard when you have a big ball of problems rolling downhill," said Anthony Reed, a committee supervisor, during a meeting at the hospital.

The committee's goals include improving communication between patients and shortening patients' wait time.

"We're trying to find a way to correct these things," Reed said.

Patients and employees both have noted that wait times vary greatly between departments, as well as the attitudes of the staff.

"I went to an ear clinic. The reception was nice. There was no wait time," said patient Loretta Yellow of Newcomb. "If you go to urgent care, though, you have to wait a long time. And, sometimes, if you have to ask how long the wait time is, sometimes they're rude."

The committee thus far has asked for improvement plans from all departments at the hospital, and also scripts of how they intend to greet patients at the hospital and on the phone. Some departments are performing better than others in customer service, the committee acknowledged, though all have room for improvement.

"We're trying to change," Reed said.

In response, the board expressed particular concern for elderly patients, many of whom do not speak English. Instead, they speak Dine, the native Navajo language, which makes it difficult for them to understand what's going on, who to talk to and where to go.

"There's no people that are fluent Navajo speakers," said board member Leonard Anthony of Shiprock.

Another board member, JC Begay, of Red Valley, said he had his own disturbing experience when an employee confused him for another patient and then attempted to give him the other patient's medication.

"The biggest concern is to cater to our patients, and a lot of our elderly patients," said David John, president of the hospital's health board.

The committee took into account all of the board's recommendations, but added that the committee is made of employees volunteering their time, which means the time they are able to spend on improving customer service is limited.

It is working on data collection, gathering plans from all of the departments, and using those as a starting point. The committee hopes to look into how it might better serve non-English speaking patients, and how they can decrease wait times.

Northern Navajo Medical Center serves much of the Navajo Nation, particularly the portions in northwest New Mexico, northeast Arizona, and southeast Utah. It is located on U.S. Highway 491 in Shiprock.

Jenny Kane can be reached at jkane@daily-times.com; 505-564-4636. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane.