A story of poorly specified products in a mismanaged ER.

My dear, sweet 95-year-old mother-in-law fell and cracked several vertebrae last year. A few days later, she was having extreme pain and her doctor told us we should take her to the ER at one of our two local hospitals. One was brand new and had just opened a few weeks prior and was the closest. The home where she lives required we use an ambulance service for her transport to the hospital, so we met them at the ER. 

We were a bit surprised to find the ER waiting room almost filled to capacity. Looking for three seats together, we spied ones at the far end by a corridor that led past two single-seat public restrooms. We edged past a guy in a wheelchair, who looked deathly pale, and I noticed some dark fluid under the wheelchair thinking it must be some spilled soda. 

The young couple next to us was there with their 2-year-old son who had a possible concussion, poor little guy. It was past time for his mid-morning nap, but they had been instructed to keep him awake — no nap for you! They had been there since 7 a.m. No nap for a 2-year-old? Well, you know how that’s going to go, but both parents were doing a remarkable job of keeping junior busy with toys and books. 

Mom-in-law was off to triage and Lois tagged along. I held down the fort on the cloth-padded seats. Seemed odd that an ER would have soft cloth-covered seats given the fact that many of the folks in the ER looked contagious. From my vantage point, I could see the two corridor restroom doors and they were in almost constant use by folks stuck in the ER waiting room. 

More people arrived in various forms of distress: A construction worker wearing a hardhat with a large (10-penny) nail sticking out of his lower arm, in obvious pain; a man with an arm twisted at an odd angle; another guy who told the nurse stationed at the desk he thought he was having a heart attack, while rubbing his left arm; and more folks in wheelchairs. 

The ER was now full to overflowing. And we all waited. Now past lunchtime, I headed off looking for food and discovered a nice cafeteria. Along the way, I ran across additional public restrooms that were not seeing much use. I was surprised to discover the men’s room urinal and toilet had manual Sloan flush valves, yet the lavatory faucet was a Sloan Optima hands-free infrared model. The towel dispenser was also manual rather than hands free. I grabbed food and back to wait in the ER. 


The mood in the ER was getting dark as folks who had been waiting for more than a few hours began losing patience. Our young parents with the 2-year-old boy had, by now, been waiting for more than six hours and no nap for junior was beginning to take its toll on all three. We were pitching in to help with reading stories because, as happens under circumstances like this, you become temporary family. 

The sickly-looking guy in the wheelchair was pushed past us by his friend to use one of the corridor restrooms, and it was blatantly obvious it had been about a decade since his past bath! We were all now prepared to hold our breath in anticipation of his return from the bathroom. As he was wheeled by, we noticed a trail of dark fluid. That wasn’t soda I’d spied under his wheelchair – that was diarrhea! 

Then a commotion arose in the corridor outside the restroom he had just used. Folks would push open the bathroom door, but not go in, so of course I had to go check it out. Seems he essentially exploded in there and now the walls, floor, and plumbing fixtures were covered in feces. The toilet had a manual you-must-touch flush valve handle and, you guessed it — the lav faucet was hands-free. It would be hours before an attendant arrived to clean the bathroom. 

The mood in the ER waiting room went from dark to midnight black. The guy with the nail in his arm left after waiting for hours, and the guy having the heart attack called for an Uber and left, saying he was going to the other hospital in our town. 

Our newly adopted family’s father went back to the front desk again to inquire when they might be seeing a doctor, and the nurse said she couldn’t give him a time, which finally pushed him over the edge. I’ve witnessed many an individual lose their cool in my lifetime, but this eruption was a sight to see and hear. 

It was, after all, past 4 p.m. and no-nap-junior had been in the ER for more than nine hours. A doctor was hastily summoned and after a five-minute examination, declared Jr. had no concussion. It was past time we left too, in spite of no one ever checking out my wife’s mother. We too were angry and frustrated.


My parents often admonished my two brothers and me that if we wanted to complain about something, do so using constructive criticism. I wrote a lengthy letter to the hospital administrator outlining what had taken place and questioned why they had cloth seat chairs and wondering how they sanitized them. 

I explained how numerous people had reported on the guy in the wheelchair leaking diarrhea and the fouled bathroom, that he probably should have been quarantined and how no one ever did clean up where he was parked in the ER. 

But the biggest single glaring issue, from my perspective, was who the heck builds a brand new hospital where all the public toilets and urinals have manual, must-touch flush valve handles, yet the faucets are hands-free? I included the correct Sloan valve retrofit kit model numbers and that the batteries last for a year, plus they are easily replaced by staff. I was pleasantly surprised to receive not one, but two letters from the president and chief administrator who said they were going to implement all of my suggested changes. 

I hope they did because the COVID-19 pandemic certainly drives home the need for no-touch flush valves, faucets and towel dispensers in public restrooms — especially in medical facilities. What follows is a recent press release from Sloan:

Sloan, a manufacturer of commercial plumbing systems, has provided its touch-free restroom products to support the conversion of Chicago’s renowned McCormick Place Convention Center and Yale University’s Payne Whitney Gym into temporary field hospitals—or COVID-19 Care Centers—due to the overflow of patients suffering from COVID-19.

“At Sloan, we understand that the touch-free products we manufacture across the entire commercial restroom play an essential role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Graham Allen, Sloan co-president and CEO. “We are proud to support those in our backyard of Chicago, Yale University, and anyone in need across the country, and we will continue to do everything in our power to supply sensor-operated products.

With 500 beds in makeshift rooms, plumbing requirements at McCormick Place called for more than 200 Sloan sensor faucets in handwashing stations, and Sloan partnered with local customers to deliver these hygiene-friendly solutions. The Army Corps of Engineers plans to build an additional 2,500 beds throughout the facility’s 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space in the coming weeks.

Yale’s Payne Whitney Gym was also converted to a temporary field hospital and needed to retrofit its existing manual faucets and flushometers to provide a more sanitary environment for the influx of patients. The facility removed its existing faucets and replaced them with Sloan sensor-operated faucets, while also installing new Sloan sensor flushometers to provide a touch-free experience.

Deemed an essential business, Sloan plant employees continue to manufacture products for critical facilities across the world. As Sloan works to fill these orders and provide donations, the health and safety of the company’s employees, customers and partners remains of the utmost importance.”

This article is also available at: https://www.pmmag.com/articles/102877-dave-yates-believe-it-or-not