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Employee Jubilee
A 50-year Johns Hopkins Hospital veteran reflects on her tenure. Part 2 of a series on long-term employees.
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From her modest office on Blalock 2, Naomi Leppard corrals medical records, after ensuring that every last detail checks out.

In June 1958, 17-year-old Ruth Naomi Leppard stepped through the doors of The Johns Hopkins Hospital in search of her first job. Having grown up on Broadway and Abbott Street, she was accustomed to seeing scores of Hopkins employees coming and going. She’d even met several over the years as a patient at the Harriet Lane Clinic. Surely, she reasoned, Hopkins must have some sort of work to offer her.

Leppard’s hunch proved accurate. She recalls that her initial interview took place on a Friday. By the time Leppard returned home, her mother had received a call: The job as a medical records clerk was Leppard’s, and she was to report to work on Monday.
Fifty years later, Leppard still works in the same department, helping doctors keep meticulous health histories on hundreds of patients by ensuring that records are complete and accurate.

Although Leppard has spent the bulk of her career as a medical records physician liaison, she began as a “transit clerk.” Working out of cramped quarters then in the Blalock basement, Leppard would file and deliver volumes of patient reports—in heels, she says—“as was required.”

These days, wearing more comfortable shoes, Leppard ensures that records have been entered into the electronic patient record. Then, explains Leppard, she and her team analyze the chart: “We make sure patients had the right attending physician,” so that all surgical procedures and discharge summaries are dictated and signed for regulatory purposes.

Leppard and her co-workers take note of the smallest details. They comb charts for discrepancies on anything from the patient’s history number, correct spelling and any missing notes. And, if Leppard recognizes a patient’s name, she immediately turns the file over to someone else to maintain patient privacy.

Less well known is that physician liaisons also act as police officers, notifying doctors weekly if discharge summaries and operative reports have not been dictated or signed. A doctor has 30 days to complete the record.

Although Leppard has struggled to master new technology over the years, she doesn’t miss the countless hours spent poring over microfilm or microfiche to extract information, often from a physician’s illegible hand, using a phonetically based indexing system to search the hospital’s master patient index, or chasing physicians down for handwritten signatures. These days Leppard spends most of her time in the EPR, managing electronic signatures and assisting clinicians with EPR document errors.

Leppard is also glad that the days of open discrimination are through. Once, a doctor saw Leppard sitting in a corridor and said to her, “Your kind can’t sit here.” Later, Leppard approached the physician and said, “You take this first layer of skin off, and we’re the same.” Eventually, the two women developed a good working relationship.

Surgeon Lisa Jacobs, who operated on Leppard in 2004 for breast cancer, is one of the many physicians with whom Leppard has formed bonds over the years. “I have been impressed by Naomi’s positive attitude,” says Jacobs. “It took me a while to realize why I was getting fewer error documents. Without my asking, she has been quietly checking them every day. Her efforts make my life easier.”

Mamie Blackledge, Leppard’s supervisor, herself a 44-year Hopkins veteran, says Leppard not only goes out of her way for physicians but also for co-workers. Leppard has donated sick time to other employees and is famous for bringing in thank-you gifts after seeking colleagues’ help. Winner of two Baker-King service awards, Leppard sees her work environment as an extension of home. “They’re my work family, and we depend on each other,” she says.

Married for the past 40 years to a former Hopkins surgical technician, Leppard enjoys experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen and working in her garden. But she’s in no hurry to retire. “I love it at Hopkins,” she says. “Why should I leave?”



— Judy F. Minkove

 

 

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