heart ornament on a Christmas Tree

Reaching the Heart of Healthcare

My dad passed away unexpectedly last month. I went home to Illinois for a week to spend time with family and friends and pay tribute to the man responsible for me becoming a writer in the first place.

I felt the need to maintain some sort of routine even in the midst of funeral plans, paperwork, people coming by the house to visit. I found comfort—and some much-needed space—by keeping busy with work.

One of my favorite parts of this job is writing stories about HCA’s Hope Fund, which provides financial aid to help HCA employees across the country who have experienced their own hardship after an illness, injury or other life event. To date, the Hope Fund has helped more than 20,000 HCA families in need.

The stories of Hope Fund recipients have the power to move and inspire people in so many ways. Tracing their arc from struggle to strength allows us to emphasize the deeply personal nature of healthcare. After all, what’s most important are people — spouses, parents and children, siblings — not numbers or deadlines or quotas.

A good story — even one about a bad experience — has a beginning, middle and the end. Here’s a little more about what makes these stories tick and how we can tell them with the dignity they deserve:

Starting from scratch

Hope Fund stories often arise from dire circumstances: late-stage cancer, a natural disaster, a home fire. This is a moment of reckoning, that time when a person’s faith is challenged and relief seems impossible.

I approach an interview as a friendly conversation as much as a fact-finding mission. A simple greeting — “How are you doing?” or “How are you feeling today?” — is something thoughtful and straightforward, a way to engage with someone and show empathy for their situation.

Most people I talk to are remarkably candid about their experiences and willing to share, armed with the knowledge that giving testimony could provide encouragement to someone else. Letting them share openly, by asking short, simple questions and making few interruptions, can help them feel comfortable and lets their burden feel a bit less heavy.

Setting the tone 

Every person’s story is different. You lose the message if you approach an interview from the same perspective each time. These stories can be heartwrenching, but many of them also have their moments of levity as well. Resist the temptation to wring every ounce of pain out of the situation.

I try to strike a balance between the past and the future, with the goal of focusing on the positive and finding kind gestures in these people’s lives: the support of neighbors, the generosity of coworkers, the love of family, so on and so forth.

Their reaction is vital, whether that may be a smile, a laugh or a sigh of appreciation for those who came to their aid. Having a human touch throughout an interview can allow you to tap into a wide range of emotions.

Celebrating little victories

These stories can demonstrate the true purpose of healthcare, which is protecting and healing people at their most vulnerable, while also delivering a message that resonates. It would be easy to wrap them up in a neat little bow and write a simple happy ending.

But miracles don’t just magically appear out of thin air. Rebuilding your life after loss is a slow process. For many people, having the money to pay for groceries or purchase medicine for their children is reason enough to be grateful. So that’s what we help them talk about and give thanks for. Small steps can lead to big changes — and that’s a lesson we can all relate to and learn from.

Our goal in working with HCA’s Hope Fund, and with the healthcare field as a whole, is to tell stories that people care about and feel compelled to share. They stir up compassion and show how we connect with each other, especially in difficult moments.

With the holiday season in full swing, it’s a perfect time to celebrate the power of perseverance. Through the stories we tell, stories that are interesting, inspiring and memorable, we hope we’re able to start a conversation about the importance of taking care of each other all year round.