At first glance, it looked like one of those deals that’s too good to be true:

Free dinner and $40 for your opinion.

My first thought was that I’ve offered my opinion for less over the years — a lot less — and I don’t remember the last time someone offered to throw in a good meal for all that advice.

But the folks at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Hermiston are serious about their offer. So serious that they’re running advertisements in the newspaper with exactly such a proposal.

Sit down, have a nice dinner, discuss your vision for your hospital and then complete a simple survey. When you are finished, they pay you $40. No catch, no hidden agenda, no time-share condo contract to sign.

When I saw the ad, I had to call Good Shepherd’s Mark Ettesvold to find out what it was all about.

Simple, Ettesvold said. Good Shepherd is in the business of providing good health care, and it’s expected to know every little detail about the business. But a big part of its business also is about what the customer wants and needs, and the easiest way to find out what those needs might be is — believe it or not — to actually ask the customer.

“We sit here every day and we study our business carefully,”  Ettesvold said. “We know about hospitals and health care, but we also might be a bit shaded by our knowledge. This kind of thing gives us a chance to see it through the customer’s eyes — and that’s especially important in this industry.”

It’s also refreshing to hear such a philosophy. 

Nobody needs to tell you the business of health care has become a big business. Sometimes, it seems as if corporate influence is having a little too much to say about how we’re treated when we need something more than just a prescription and a couple of days at home.

In fact, I’m pretty sure our Congress and president went through a great big brouhaha over all of this not too long ago.

But the fact that Good Shepherd is a truly independent outfit means the folks there are doing their best to find out what their community needs and respond accordingly — without that corporate “help” from hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Health care is an interesting commodity. Most of us don’t think about it much until we need it. It’s not like buying a car. We don’t drive by the hospital every day and say, “Whew, wonder what one of those new appendectomies is going for?”

But when we need that appendectomy, we expect to be treated in the best possible manner, from the moment we walk into the emergency room to the day we walk out of the hospital.

And Good Shepherd wants to know what you want — before you need it — and they’re not afraid to hear some tough comments. They’re taking their mission of health care very, very seriously.

“Everyone likes kudos,”  Ettesvold said. “But negative responses have a great value. How are we doing in every aspect of what we do?

“One of the things about health care is that our reputation is developed by word of mouth, much more than many other businesses. It’s very important to us to hear what people are saying.”

And this is your chance to be heard — and get a nice meal and $40 to boot.

That’s what I’d call a pretty good deal.

 The Good Shepherd community healthcare needs survey will be held Dec. 15 from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Good Shepherd Conference Room 5. Pre-registration is required. Provide your name, address and telephone number to Mark Ettesvold, Good Shepherd Public Relations Director, at 541-667-3460 before 5 p.m. Dec. 14.    

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