Massachusetts hospital implements code of conduct policy

Milford (Mass.) Regional Medical Center has adopted a new code of conduct policy that targets disrespectful behavior from patients and visitors. 

The policy, which was announced Jan. 4, prohibits words or actions against healthcare workers that are considered disrespectful, racist, discriminatory, hostile or harassing. Those who violate the code of conduct may need "to make other plans for their care. For serious or repeated violations, future non-emergency care and visitation rights at Milford Regional may require review, though we expect this to be rare." 

Examples of prohibited actions, according to the hospital:

  • Offensive comments about other people's race, ethnicity, accent, religion, gender, sexual orientation or other personal traits
  • Refusal to see a healthcare worker based on these personal traits
  • Aggressive or intimidating behavior, physical or verbal threats and assaults
  • Sexual or vulgar words or actions
  • Disrupting another patient's care or experience

"Being clear about expectations for behavior will translate to a stronger culture of respect and a safer environment for all," Milford Regional Chief Medical Officer Peter Smulowitz, MD, said in a hospital news release. "Although acts of aggression or violence are an unfortunate reality in today's healthcare settings, our code of conduct will help reinforce a safe and trusted environment that everyone should continue to expect at Milford Regional."

Milford Regional's policy has faced some criticism, including from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression in Philadelphia, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

"Better explain that 'disrespectful' eye roll if you want your chemotherapy," reads a statement from Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, according to the newspaper. "This hospital is outrageously trying to put an asterisk on the Hippocratic Oath. Patients have more important things on their minds than policing their speech for 'unwelcome words' or watching their body language or tone of voice.

"We've seen nebulous terms like 'disrespectful' and 'offensive' twisted to punish all manner of expression, but censoring individuals coping with their own health and mortality — and punishing them by denying care — is a symptom of a larger societal disease."

Milford Regional's code of conduct is "intended to establish an expectation of respectful behavior from patients and visitors in order to provide for a secure, caring and inclusive atmosphere throughout the Milford Regional system," according to the hospital release.

In a YouTube video about the policy, Dr. Smulowitz said if the hospital believes an individual has violated the code of conduct with words or actions, the person will have the opportunity to explain their point of view.

"We will always carefully consider your response before we make any decisions about future care," he said. 

Dr. Smulowitz noted there is a similar code of conduct in place for Milford Regional staff and providers. 

Worcester, Mass.-based UMass Memorial Health, which recently signed a definitive agreement for its affiliation with Milford Regional, also has a patient and visitor code of conduct, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. In October, the Connecticut Hospital Association announced it adopted a code of conduct policy for patients and families, which applies to 27 hospitals in the state as well as other healthcare settings.

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