'Golden Rule' guides medical center patient advocate

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
In her last four years as customer relations director at Keesler Medical Center, Martha Prieto-Moreno has based her interactions with patients on a personal version of The Golden Rule.

"I try to treat patients the way I would like someone to treat my parents, family and friends if they needed help," said Prieto-Moreno, who was born in Colombia and raised in Brooklyn, New York. 

"My parents do not speak the best English, and they have medical needs. I want them to be treated with kindness and for someone to care."

Prieto-Moreno arrived at Keesler in 1999 and had spent 24 years in dental clinic administration when she retired from active duty as a master sergeant. She began her civil service career five years ago as the executive assistant to the director of the Biloxi Veterans Affairs Medical Center, but when her current job opened up at Keesler a year later, she applied immediately.

"When I was on active duty, I had filled in for the person who had this position, so I knew what the duties entailed," she remarked. "I've learned so much with being in this position, whether it is something with Tricare, Medicare, the VA or just what a medical diagnosis means. The more I learn, the more I am able to assist our patients, family members or staff members." 

Prieto-Moreno is the medical center's primary patient advocate, but each clinic has a representative readily available to address patient concerns.

In an average month, she works about 38 inquiries that range from complaints to compliments to process improvements. She learns of many issues through phone calls or emails to her office, but she often visits the inpatient floors or clinics.

Unfortunately, Prieto-Moreno says most people who come to her office are upset. If they use profanity and won't stop, she asks them to leave and either file a written complaint or to come back when they calm down. If visitors become violent, she has to contact security forces.  More often than not, she's able to defuse a tense situation.

"Patients come with different needs," Prieto-Moreno explained. "Some just don't understand the military process of scheduling appointments or the TRICARE referral process. Some patients get frustrated with not being able to just go off base and see who they want to see. I compare TRICARE to other insurance companies and let them know other insurance companies have policies as well. 

"There are times when patients just feel their providers don't meet them eye to eye," she admitted. "Patients do have a right to seek a different primary care provider or second opinion, and I can facilitate that. Some patients are unrealistic about their needs and I have to make them understand this with reasoning and giving them other treatment options."

While speaking to some patients, Prieto-Moreno often becomes aware of other extenuating issues related to a specific medical situation.  

"I can get them referred for counseling or to meet with a chaplain, or get some guidance with a financial situation, and I can get them referred to our Airman and Family Readiness Center or the Navy's Fleet and Family Center," Prieto-Moreno stated. 

The limited time allotted for each patient with a health care provider can be a drawback if patients aren't clear about what questions to ask.

"When they come to see me, I can spend a little more time with them," Prieto-Moreno noted. "With the assistance of our great case managers, we may be able to assist these patients."

She said it's very challenging when patients receive a grim diagnosis or pass away, especially the young. 

"I'm available to help patients and family members with getting their wills, powers of attorney, making arrangements for Fisher House or other accommodations, chaplain services or meals - sometimes, it's just as simple as getting a charger for their phone," Prieto-Moreno commented. "I'm also involved with care coordination meetings for patients, family members and multiple providers."

She believes she has certain qualities that make her very effective in her job.

"I feel I'm authentic, versatile and very competent in what I do," she said. "I am a great communicator and very approachable. I am compassionate, but realistic."

Loyalty is a strong value for Prieto-Moreno, too, and she carries the trust of her co-workers and patients alike.

"I'm loyal to the 81st Medical Group, but I'm also loyal to my patients," she stressed. "I don't want to lose the trust of the leadership, providers, nurses and technicians who trust me to convey their policies to our beneficiaries. In turn, I do not want to lose the trust of the patients who want their concerns addressed."

Prieto-Moreno emphasized that in addition to problems and complaints, patients also come to her with ideas and recommendations for improvement and each one is considered. 

"The medical group is committed to addressing all feedback, positive and negative, related to patient care programs and services," she pointed out.

That feedback process has been simplified since the Interactive Customer Evaluation web-based tool was implemented last year. There are two ways to access the program. 

People can log on to http://www.keesler.af.mil/units/81stmedicalgroup.asp and click on the ICE icon at the bottom left-hand corner, or they can access http://ice.disa.mil and follow the prompts.

Prieto-Moreno is away from her office much of the day, but people can make appointments to see her or reach her by phone, 376-3092, or by email, martha.prieto-moreno.2@us.af.mil. She asks that callers leave a clear, precise message, and she'll return all calls promptly. She has been in a temporary office, but returns to her original location in Room GF 405 in the medical center on March 16.