The Lines are Open

This spring, in my role as the hospital’s compliance officer, I received a phone call from the family member of a patient notifying me that the bathroom door in the Medical Office Building was “too heavy” to be opened by a handicapped patient. I contacted the director of engineering, and he immediately went to check the door.

The lightweight door to the bathroom had been recently replaced and a new “easy opening” mechanism added so that the door was in compliance with laws regarding access. However, the engineering director determined that the device had malfunctioned. It was actually creating a seal, which made the door unusually hard to open.

Having been alerted to the problem, the engineering department was able to make a fix. And I was able to contact the patient’s family member to communicate that the problem had been solved.

The patient’s family member was aware of the SVMC Ethics and Compliance Helpline. The Helpline that can be used to report concerns and ask questions. The Compliance Helpline can be accessed from by calling 855-262-1442. Online, reports can be made at

This is a perfect example of how the Helpline was designed to work. We want to be responsive to patients. Open communication about questions and concerns solve problems like this one quickly and easily.

The Helpline and website are open to patients, visitors, employees, and anyone. Every report is followed up professionally and confidentially. The service is provided through an outside vendor, so those who call may withhold their names and remain anonymous if they choose.

Any concern is worthy of reporting. Often reports made through the Compliance Hotline are not violations of laws and regulations. Regardless of the type of concern reported, the compliance department oversees the response. Although the compliance department does not conduct all the investigations, they have an obligation to assess and determine whether there was an adequate assessment and response to the concern.

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines (FSG) for Effective Compliance and Ethics Programs advises organizations to develop a Compliance hotline while encouraging its workforce and members of the public to report concerns that may violate laws and regulations. Having and publicizing a Compliance hotline is one of the elements of an effective compliance and ethics program. You can always access the Compliance Hotline number and website at and on posters around the hospital.

If you notice anything unusual about the environment or your treatment at SVMC, The Centers for Living and Rehabilitation, The Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center or any of our family practice campuses, please call 1-855-262-1442 or visit to report it.

Without the patient’s family member who reported the door being unusually heavy, we might have taken much longer to identify and solve the problem. When you report a concern, you make care better for everyone.

Susan Purcell Montiel is the administrative director of Corporate Compliance and Legal Services and is the corporate compliance officer at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.