Working as a receptionist in a medical office can be challenging. A recent employee came up with a unique way of dealing with the stress that comes when the phones got busy. She answered the phone, politely listened to the patient’s concern and then hung up. She didn’t write anything down or enter a note into the chart, didn’t do anything to actually make sure the patient’s needs were addressed. She simply moved on to the next call. She had a similar solution to entering patient insurance information into the system as well. Skipping work was the easiest way to catch up.
It took several weeks for me to discover the problem. When patients began complaining that their calls were not being returned I searched for a cause. It did not occur to me that my new receptionist might not be recording messages. Message taking is such a crucial component of the job that I did not think it possible for someone with years of experience in the medical field to intentionally avoid it.
My blindness to the cause of the problem was in part due to the fact from my limited observations of her work she seemed to be doing well. She was polite, the other employees liked her and she seemed to be keeping up with her duties.
It was not until a few weeks later when I noticed that a phone message had been entered into the chart hours after the office had closed that I investigated the possibility she was not entering messages into the chart at the time a patient called. The delayed message discovery was the clue that led me to consider that the source of the patient complaints might be her. She was off on the day that I discovered the problem and I called an impromptu meeting with my other employees.
A few minutes into the meeting we realized we had a big problem on our hands. Each of us had individually fielded patient complaints about unreturned calls, unaware that the others had done the same. Together we were aware of 15-20 message failures. I wondered if I should counsel her on her performance and warn her that her job was in jeopardy. When the employees told me that had each already done so I knew this was not a matter of her simply making mistakes. The receptionist clearly did not care enough about our patients to do her job well. I had no choice but to let her go.
That afternoon I sent a message to every patient on our electronic mailing list letting them know that we had discovered an issue with messages not being recorded. I apologized and asked all who had not received responses to messages to let me know. We had 5 replies within the first 24 hours. I was shaken by the news as I realized important medical care might have been delayed. I was grateful that many patients were supportive and understanding of my efforts to rectify the problem.
As shocked and disappointed as I was at the employee’s intentional neglect, subsequent events were more discouraging. The afternoon of her discharge she deposited a duplicated paycheck she had promised to destroy a month earlier, in essence stealing over $1300 from me. I filed a report with the police.
She filed an unemployment claim. My challenge to the claim was initially upheld but later overturned by an administrative judge who concluded that her misconduct was not excessive and ruled her entitled to up to $15,000 of benefits, charged to my account. It seems that in California employers have almost no protections under the law. It has been six months now and the police have yet to file charges.
What troubles me the most is not the financial loss. The charges to my account will be stretched out over a long period of time and I will be able to absorb them. What troubles me is that I placed my trust in such an untrustworthy person. I had thought that I was a reasonable evaluator of character but in this case I was fooled, which means it will be harder to trust future employees. This is particularly sad for an office that has always had a family feel about it.
My only comfort is in the knowledge that I was a just and fair employer. I paid her an excellent wage, gave her and her family free medical care and advice and even paid for her first few work uniforms. In spite of her breech of trust I will strive to do the same for others God brings my way. The fact that others are unfaithful does not mean that I cannot be.
Her story reminds me that we love not because others will love us back but because God loves us. We serve because Christ served us. While recognition and appreciation are often lacking in this life, we serve a God who has promised to reward the faithfulness of His people.
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