No foolin’, this really did happen

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

“But, Mom, we don’t have school today. Remember, it’s some kind of teacher’s training day.” “Why do you have on different colored socks today?” “Careful. Your shoestrings are untied.”

April Fools Day is just around the corner. Kids in kindergarten classes, adults at work and some people in senior care facilities will try to pull pranks on each other all day long.

Some people will see it as a goofy nuisance. Some may giggle, sigh, and put up with it. Some parents, grandparents and kindergarten teachers will pretend to fall for the prank just to hear the giggles from their little trickster.

That was me. The tricky child.

To pull off a good prank, certain things must happen. The prankster must be able to walk away from the prank with a complete look of innocence. The prankee (person getting tricked) may know who pranked them, but must have absolutely no proof. Despite overwhelming evidence, the prankster must be able to maintain complete deniability.

Throughout most of my adult life, I would never have thought about pulling an April Fool’s prank, but something changed in the ‘90s. I was entrenched in my career. I really enjoyed the people I worked with.

We had a camaraderie that transcended the workplace, but at times, I thought we were taking ourselves too seriously. We needed to lighten up. We needed to be a little less serious about all the serious things we dealt with at work.

One way of lightening up the workplace … pull a well-planned, harmless prank.

One of the most important things that every hospital administration needs to deal with is the hard work that goes into a successful Joint Commission accreditation.

Every three years, hospitals undergo an extensive survey by the Joint Commission. The commission looks at everything from infection rates to quality-of-care and dust on the light fixtures. Without a Joint Commission certification, the hospital is unable to bill for many of the services they provide. It’s vital that a hospital is certified by the Joint Commission.

One year in the 1990s, our survey was scheduled for February. The focus of everyone from top administration to each hospital employee was to prepare and assure that every aspect of care and every detail within the building was perfect. In fact, we had worked since the last Joint Commission survey to maintain the excellent standards that were measured by the surveyors.

The survey team was composed of a physician, a nursing administrator, and a facilities expert. They didn’t miss a thing. They inspected everything and drilled down into all of our patient care records.

It was intense. While we went through those tense days of the actual survey, the entire team sweated blood to show the inspectors what a great hospital we have here in Clinton County. We passed with flying colors. Our CEO sent all his department heads a copy of the certification letter. We were all proud.

Almost immediately after the inspection, our president and CEO scheduled a well-earned vacation to relax from all the tension. He was scheduled to return to the office on April 1. As soon as I saw the date of his scheduled return, the wheels started turning in my little brain. I felt something had to be done; something creative.

So, I made a copy of our verification letter. Using the most basic cut-and-paste tools (scissors and tape), the letter was revised. The letterhead and signature were kept intact. But the body of the letter was changed to apologize for the mistake of sending the original letter, because, in fact, the hospital had failed their survey and, to make matters worse, our current certification was being revoked.

The letter contained 10 short paragraphs. The first letter of the first paragraph started with a capital-A. The second paragraph started with a capital-P. I continued this until “APRIL FOOLS” was spelled out. His secretary was brought into the prank so that she could assure that the letter was on top of his pile of mail on April 1 when he walked back into his office.

I also showed the letter to my boss. I wanted to zing him — but I didn’t want to lose my job over the prank.

It all worked perfectly. The morning of April 1 he sat at his desk and almost instantly shouted out, “Everyone! Get in here right now.” My boss let him rant for just a few seconds before pointing out the clues hidden in the first word of each paragraph. For some reason, he immediately thought of me.

I denied any knowledge of the letter and maintained my innocence until the day I retired, but he knew… he knew, but could never prove anything.

The word got out. Copies of the letter were made and circulated to the great entertainment of everyone. Of course, everyone assumed that I was the prankster, but I denied it. Despite the apparent confession within this column, I will still deny it.

Have a fun April Fool’s Day. Keep it safe.

Check you shoestrings.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist