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Hospital offers a window to the world

Cover_hospital

A hospital brings together the best and worst of people often in chaotic, traumatic scenarios that for some are everyday events, and for others are life changing moments.

In her latest book, Hospital, journalist Julie Salamon uses palpable descriptions and poignant anecdotes to capture  those moments and personalities that make a hospital what it is.

Salamon spent a year at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn to tell a story about a hospital, but it turns out to be a reflection on societal values, priorities, tolerance and politics told through the lens of doctors, nurses and patients. Salamon shows how a hospital can be far more than a building of laboratories and medical equipment but a source of community pride, consternation and certainly conversation.

It doesn’t take readers long to discover that Maimonides is not like all hospitals. As the cover says, it is "diversity on
steroids," and God and religion permeate every major decision from
maintaining a Kosher kitchen to easing post-Sept. 11 tensions between
Muslim and non-Muslim staff.

Salamon’s greatest achievement in the book is bringing alive the personalities that shape the 600-bed hospital and make it possible to see 81,000 patients yearly in the emergency room, cook 30 gallons of Jello a week and collect more than $630 million in revenue annually. From the book, it’s clear that a hospital is far more than a building an is actually defined by the people within it.

Among the characters Salamon introduces us to are the Maimonides’ quirky, yet driven and ambitious chief executive officer, a reflective and visionary oncologist, and a green resident experiencing simultaneously the culture shock of medicine and Borough Park.

Through her anecdotes, the political nature of a hospital is apparent, as are turf  battles for patients and the challenges of our fractured health care system. Readers get a sense of the constant struggle within a hospital to balance the mission of serving all members of a community with operating a profitable business.

This is a book about health care, but it’s also a social commentary. Turns out a hospital provides an excellent window to watch high-stakes collision of culture, politics and values.

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Gregg Masters Recent comment authors
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Gregg Masters
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Thanks Sarah: Julie’s book goes on my “to read” list. The political posturing and awkward “patient ownership” turf battles that routinely play out in hospital cultural anthropology is not often brought into the public discourse. Most insiders tend to hold this one close to the chest.