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John Self is traveling today.

The blog post today appeared originally in November 2008.  With the recent Time Magazine article on healthcare costs generating some much buzz and outrage, John and the team selected this blog for his Friday story.

Hospitals get a bad rap for poor service and embarrassing cost shifting. We are ridiculed – deservedly, more often than not – for not being able to deliver quality service in the manner of luxury hotels. In addition, if that is not enough, we hear the inevitable stories about the $25 aspirin or the arrogance of some employees who believe that they are the reason patients are there.

Today, I want to turn the tables. As I enjoy this Thanksgiving Day at my “weekend” house in scenic Tyler, a small city about 110 miles east of Dallas, some recent experiences with hotels come to mind, particularly one famous New York establishment.

In the future, when I hear unflattering comparisons between hospitals and hotels, I will ask, what about the $9 orange juice or the two to six hours it took many guests to check in because housekeeping was behind. Or, the hundreds of pieces of luggage sitting on a Manhattan side street because the hotel’s luggage storage was overwhelmed, as were the bellhops, front desk personnel, the waiters, and, obviously, the management team.

I will not use the name of the hotel because I do not want my preferred customer status to revert to that of preferred rodent, but they do make a nice holiday salad. I am just not sure they can run a hotel.

Let’s cut to the chase. The orange juice. I was asked by a harried waiter if I wanted coffee. I did. And juice? Yes, I was dehydrated. The hotel’s heating system dried me out overnight. Wow, there was a lot of pulp in that OJ. This must be hand squeezed, I thought. Then that cautionary little voice in my head sounded the alarm: Be careful, hand-squeezed orange juice is expensive, especially from the hands of unionized New York kitchen workers. I was right. Nine dollars for an 8-ounce highball glass of not-from-concentrate vitamin C.

Now the kicker.

As I was walking from the restaurant I noticed on the counter, next to a carafe similar to the one from whence my juice was poured, a half gallon carton of orange juice — Florida’s finest from the grove stand with lots of pulp. So much for that union worker in the kitchen diligently squeezing oranges. Then I did the math. A half-gallon contains eight servings, according to that manufacturer. At $9 a glass, that means the hotel was recording at least $72 of revenue per carton. Based on volume, I am thinking this enormous hotel property buys each half gallon for, at the most, $1.25 a unit. I do not even want to think about the $7.00 coffee, $19 for fresh berries, the $6 yogurt – probably not fresh – or the $20 scrambled eggs. Then you add the legendary New York taxes. The Big Apple, or at least in this case, a legendary hotel, suddenly becomes the big sucking sound as my wallet is assaulted by a juice carton masquerading as a unionized kitchen worker, sans juicer.

This is not meant to be another naive diatribe about New York’s high costs and ridiculous tax rates. About that there is no debate. Nope. This is a knock on a luxury hotel whose data processing capacity is suspect, whose customer service is worse than uneven, whose maintenance is sloppy, and indifferent executives who scurry about with their European-cut suits, cell phones in hand, with the conviction of an overwhelmed management intern who could not organize a three-car funeral.

The desk chair that was falling apart and that no one came to repair despite several calls to the hotel’s service hotline. The painfully slow service in the restaurants. The overwhelmed, plodding desk clerks and the smartly dressed housekeepers who could not clean the room before 2 PM. No wonder it took some QE2 passengers six hours to get a room while their luggage sat lined up on the sidewalk like the Northwest Airlines’ Detroit baggage claim following a snowstorm.

For those of us who toil in healthcare and have been made to believe that we are inferior humans because we cannot deliver service in a safe,timely, friendly, and cost effective manner, call me.

I will give you the name of a famous Park Avenue hotel where you can go and learn what NOT to do to your physicians and their patients.

© 2012 John Gregory Self