Alison Galloway knew she was suited for nursing from a very young age. “I’ve always had a desire to help people who can’t help themselves,” she recalls. But it was only later after working for years as an operating room nurse, that she realized she was a natural leader too. Now 48, Galloway has made a career out of both as the Director of Nursing and Chief Administrator at the LaPeer Surgery Center in Beverly Hills. Recently she spoke with Silversheet about her career path from teenaged babysitter to overseeing an entire surgery center; why she doesn’t watch Grey’s Anatomy; and the one thing she would change about healthcare.
ST: So Alison, what led you to a career in healthcare?
AG: I guess I’ve always had a passion for helping others and a sensitive side to people suffering which probably has to do with some of my childhood experiences.
I really loved babysitting because I liked being the nurturer. I remember babysitting for a kid with croup one time and he started not being able to breath. I called my mom and luckily we lived nearby so she came over and we put him in the steam from the shower and that helped his breathing. That kind of responsiveness to the sickness intrigued me.
ST: Interesting, I always thought people liked the part where you’ve put the kids in bed now you can watch TV…
AG: Well initially it was just, “wow, I just love taking care of children” but as I got older I watched some family members suffer through health challenges and then a neighbor had leukemia. All those things really affected me. I wanted to do whatever I could to help them so nursing was a natural choice.
ST: So how did you get from being a nurse to a hospital administrator?
AG: I went to nursing school in the 1980s and from there I became a staff nurse in the operating room at UCLA. I was promoted and advanced I think because I had good leadership skills, so I slowly worked my way up from staff nurse, to charge nurse to hospital supervisor. And here I am 25 years later pretty much at the top of where I can go in a nursing career.
ST: What’s a typical day like for you?
AG: It starts at 6:30 am when I come in…
ST: Wait, what happens before you come in?
AG: Well it depends on how early the phone starts going off. If a patient has stayed overnight I may be texting the nurses throughout the night. If my day started at four in the morning I’m not going to be so inclined to squeeze in some exercise, but if it’s been a normal morning I’ll get up at five and ride my stationary bike while watching the news – it’s a great way to start the day. Then I shower, make coffee and drink it while I drive the 10 miles to work. Luckily there’s not a lot of traffic at that hour.
ST: What’s a surprising thing about your job?
AG: One surprising thing is how much gratification I get from leading people. When I was doing direct patient care, the patients were what motivated me to come to work every day, but now it’s the ability to touch the staff; to problem solve and come up with ideas.
ST: Outside of work what do you like to do?
AG: I have dogs and I love to spend time with them, walking them on the beach. I like riding bikes. I like reading and movies.
ST: Any favorites?
AG: Novels definitely. I like Grisham and Cooke and Crichton sometimes. I like the medical thrillers but Grisham is probably my favorite.
ST: And do the TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy do a good job of portraying what goes on inside a hospital?
AG: To be honest I’ve never watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy – I don’t tend to watch those shows because I feel like I live it. When I watch TV it’s a lot of Law & Order, Crime Scene Investigation, and Big Bang Theory for comic relief.
ST: Switching gears a little bit, how is the Affordable Care Act affecting your work?
AG: Initially people who didn’t have healthcare were ecstatic because they thought “Great I have healthcare!” But now they’re going to see the doctor and finding out that it’s still going to cost them a lot out of pocket.
So we’ll have people arguing about it, saying, “But I have insurance!” and we have to tell them, “But your insurance doesn’t pay what it costs to do this procedure.”
They’re just not really understanding that their plan is not covering a lot and that there are still out of pocket expenses because healthcare is expensive. So I think that people aren’t quite educated about it.
ST: If you could change one thing about healthcare, what would it be?
AG: I would like to see insurance companies become more regulated, especially with respect to their payment processes.
We’re an out of network facility. Theoretically that means we can charge whatever we want, so we can say it’ll cost a million dollars for that knee arthroscopy – of course we don’t – but we can charge a lot of money and then submit it to the insurance company. Some pay it no problem, but many others will deny it and put it through an appeals process for months and months, asking for more and more medical records to prove this was a necessary procedure.
It’s random too – it’s not like they post on their website that as of a certain date we need to have all this documentation for arthroscopies ahead of time. No - all of a sudden we’ve just called to ask for verification if patient X has coverage for a knee arthroscopy. We tell them what her benefits cover – it’s not like we just randomly do the surgery without checking first to see if the patient has the benefits. So then we say to the patient, “This is what it’s going to cost and can you afford to pay it?”
We set the whole thing up so then we submit bill to the insurance company and they say “Well, we need more information,” “Well now we’re not going to pay that,” “Well now our rule is this…”
Now you have to go through this nightmare of a process – so that’s the thing that makes me very frustrated for our staff. And I think people have the perception that we’re getting paid hand-over-fist when that’s not really the case.
ST: And for a very important question – what’s the secret to finding good hospital food? Does such a thing even exist?
AG: (Laughs) Well, as I always say, our coffee is terrific because our staff needs good caffeine hits!
With contribution by Sarah Tory of Hippo Reads