Can You Really Use Facebook to Achieve Justice?

Ken Howard | OnFaith Voices By on

As the ordained leader of a relatively new and growing congregation on the outskirts of the nation’s capitol, I have seen Facebook used for many things: evangelism, congregational communication and networking, event publicity, even providing a stealthy, back-door reentry into church life for those who haven’t attended recently and want to avoid those awkward “where have you been” questions.

I had yet to see anyone use Facebook to achieve justice for a parishioner. That is, until something I tried just a few weeks ago. Something I call, “Whitemail.”

Here’s what happened:

One of my older parishioners was rushed to the hospital and ended up in the ICU as a result of what at first appeared to be a stroke. After several days, it became clear that it was actually the result of a dramatic worsening of his congestive heart disease, and that he was dying.

After the hospital determined that death was inevitable, the hospital, in what appeared to be an attempt to save money and free up an ICU bed, transferred him to intermediate care in a regular hospital room. While this action demonstrated a somewhat disturbing attitude on the part of the hospital, they hadn’t crossed any bright red lines . . . yet.

Soon, however, it became clear that despite the fact that they had classified his level of care need as intermediate, they were only going to provide him with regular care. When my parishioner tried to remove his feeding tubes and IV lines to get out of bed, the hospital staff told his wife that she would have to hire a service to take care of her husband. Not wanting to see her dying husband suffer a fall or die prematurely, she engaged such a service. By the time her husband eventually died, she had spent over $3,000 of their limited savings to provide for her husband a service that should have been provided by the hospital.

After her husband’s death and memorial service, she told me that she had resigned herself to writing off the expense. She would just work to conserve the savings she had left.

But I could not let this injustice go unchallenged. I tried the usual and customary ways to seek redress for the surviving spouse. First, I called the patient advocacy department and then tried to speak with the hospital president — all to no avail.

Then I had an idea . . .

I looked up the company’s Facebook page. On the upper left corner of the page was a place to rate (and comment on) company services. I gave the hospital a single star and briefly explained why. Then I sent a direct message. In that message, I simply told them that if they wanted me to avoid a more detailed explanation, they would issue an apology to my surviving parishioner and reimburse her for the money she paid out of pocket for services they should have provided. If they did this, I explained, I would remove the rating and explanation. However, if they did not do the right thing, I would expand upon the explanation and maybe alert our newspaper, The Washington Post.

Within a week, my surviving parishioner received a check for a little over $3,000 . . . and several apologies.

Who knew that Facebook could be used to achieve social justice?

Whitemail . . . maybe you should try it, should the need arise.

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OnFaith Voices is a series of perspectives about faith.