A woman with a broken leg enters Highland Park Hospital. She is wearing a cast and using crutches to negotiate hallways.
But the woman isn’t at the hospital because of her leg; she had arrived with her ailing husband.
The woman sits, alone. And waits. And waits some more.
A maintenance man stops what he’s doing and offers to get her a cup of coffee.
“The woman,” says Highland Park Hospital President Jesse Peterson Hall, “wrote me a letter about her experience that day. In it she described the man as a angel disguised as a maintenance man.
“Her description made me smile.”
The 60-year-old smiles again. The Wilmette resident — who has been affiliated with the NorthShore University HealthSystem since 2002 and is in his 12th year as president of the system’s hospital in Highland Park — orders coffee, orange juice and two eggs over medium with a side of breakfast potatoes and an English muffin at Walker Bros. Original Pancake House in Highland Park.
“Nobody,” Peterson Hall adds, “wants to come to a hospital. Our top priority at the hospital is safety; we want every patient and every visitor to feel safe. Our next priority is to make sure our patients and visitors feel calm and confident in our care. Feeling calm and confident reduces stress. Reducing stress contributes to patients getting better.”
Highland Park Hospital turns 100 years old next year. It’s one of the reasons I’m having breakfast with Peterson Hall today. Another reason: to find out what it was like to grow up for three years in Perth, Australia. The native of Philadelphia moved to the capital of Western Australia with his family at the age of 15 and attended a boys school named Christ Church Grammar School, an Anglican day and boarding school (pre-K through 12th grade) overlooking the Swan River.
“Such a beautiful setting, and the climate there is like San Diego’s,” Peterson Hall says. “My parents were adventurous, loved to travel. I loved it there. Had a great time. I remember we had to wear gray shirts and shorts to school, with gray knee socks. Our outfits had blue and yellow striping. Students were required to play sports, and I signed up for gymnastics, rowing, tennis and field hockey. I played sports … not very well.”
We laugh, in concert.
Peterson Hall took a gap year before graduating from Western Australian Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in applied science and returning stateside to earn his MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He met his future wife, Elizabeth, while serving in administrative roles at Memorial Health Services in Long Beach, California.
Elizabeth Peterson Hall is an attorney, a trivia contest ace and a huge Oakland Raiders fan who competes in “four or five fantasy football leagues,” her husband says.
“The NFL Network,” he adds, “is always on at home.”
I glance at my notes.
I want to return to his time in Australia. Peterson Hall had developed a keen interest in the field of healthcare after working with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in the Australian outback. The RFDS mission is to provide excellence in aeromedical and primary healthcare across Australia. It’s one of the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical organizations in the world, using the latest in aviation, medical and communications technology.
“I’d been a social worker, for three years, in a rural mining town after my years at Western Australian Institute of Technology,” recalls Peterson Hall, who, in 2002, joined the staff of NorthShore University HealthSystem as senior vice president at Evanston Hospital after completing a stint with the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania.
“I worked closely with the [RFDS] folks. People living in aboriginal communities need to be transported great distances when they get sick. Planes deliver the patients to hospitals.”
Highland Park Hospital introduced its unique Labor Delivery Recovery Postpartum (LDRP) family birthing center in mid-September. It’s a single-room care experience. Each mom, from her first day in the hospital until the day she’s released with her newborn, receives attention from the same nursing staff.
“Moms,” Peterson Halls says, “don’t want to leave our hospital.”
Peterson Hall runs five miles three days a week with a group of friends and likes to walk his dogs, three-year-old Fannie and nine-year-old Tanka.
Tanka is part bulldog.
“With the face of [actor] Steve Buscemi,” Peterson Hall says. “But Tanka has a wonderful disposition.”
Peterson Hall — the father of Rebecca, 22 — volunteers for the Lake County Partners Economic Development and the Lake County Mental Health Coalition.
He informs me of his plan to donate blood today. The man with an A-plus outlook on life has a B-positive blood type.
“One of the most rewarding parts of my job is hearing how our patients got through their difficult treatments with the help of our staff,” Peterson Hall says. “We consider the members of our staff, our entire staff at the hospital — physicians, nurses, housekeeping employees, people in food services, everybody — equally important to each patient’s experience. Small things are big.
“Small things, like smiling, like getting coffee for somebody,” he adds.