Author draws on experience as hospital administrator
By Pat Sunderland
Published Wednesday, June 1, 2016 8:24 am
Cedaredge resident John Mitchell has drawn upon his experience as a hospital administrator to write a novel titled "Medical Necessity," with the subhead, "Sometimes the Worst Complication is Standing Right in Front of You."
Mitchell worked at Delta County Memorial Hospital during a career that took him from Washington state to the Front Range of Colorado. In 2009, he and his senior executive team were named "Top Leadership Team in Healthcare for Mid-Sized Hospitals" by HealthLeaders Media.
After retiring, Mitchell and his wife Paula returned to their home in Cedaredge and Mitchell started a public relations company. While his job entails writing and reporting on a variety of topics, including health care policy, he has also been able to devote time to writing fiction. His hospital experience provided ideas for characters and personality types, but he says the inspiration for his protagonist -- a very narcissistic, sociopathic person -- was his stepmother. (She has passed away, so Mitchell doesn't have to worry about hurting her feelings.)
As he developed his characters, and got to know them better, he said the writing got a lot easier. He completed the novel in about three years.
The story is set in the late '90s, Mitchell said, before the Affordable Care Act changed the way health care is delivered. Physicians, insurance companies and hospitals amassed huge fortunes working in an environment largely free of any quality-of-care requirements. Physicians discovered to have personal or clinical issues simply moved on to another facility or another state. That loophole has been closed, and problem doctors like those in his book are harder to find.
"I think it surprises people to find the same kind of dysfunctions they see in their workplace, are also in the hospital," he said.
He recognizes most people who are in health care are compassionate individuals with the right attitude, but that's not the case with several of the book's characters. The book is actually based on a true incident. "I was pretty shocked when I heard about it," he said, but a recent John Hopkins report cites medical mistakes as the third leading cause of death in hospitals. The book's subhead reflects that defining event in the book.
Mitchell wound up self-publishing the book, because he is in his early 60s and said he doesn't have the time "to wait around for an agent and a publisher to get interested."
"If you market your book right on social media, you can get the same exposure as if you had a publisher, and you retain control over everything," he said.
Still, he's found that writing a book is a lot easier than marketing it. The other challenge about self-publishing is producing a professional product. He hired an editor who helped tighten up the story and used a graphic designer for the cover and the layout.
"It was hard spending that kind of love and effort, and not knowing if anybody was going to like or care about it," he said. He's gratified to see favorable reviews posted on Amazon, where the book is sold under his pen name, J. Willis Mitchell. He uses a pen name because he wanted some separation between his creative work and the paid work he does under the name John Mitchell.
With "Medical Necessity" in print, Mitchell recently dug out another novel he started many years ago. The story is based on written correspondence from a relative who was a Coast Guard search and rescue pilot, as well as Mitchell's own experiences aboard a Navy aircraft carrier.
He isn't ruling out a sequel to "Medical Necessity," either. "I've definitely set it up that way," he said.