|By Lauren Sausser, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Across the lobby, there's the actual spa. Or at least there will be once it's finished this fall.
At Baptist Parkridge, there's more than just the in-house spa. The design incorporates plenty of sunlight, water-and-rock fountains, soft curves and earth-toned upholstery. Lavender, thought to promote relaxation, is placed on patients' pillows at night. Cafeteria staff wear chefs jackets and fix made-to-order meals with fresh, local ingredients. The hospital entrance, complete with rocking chairs, is called "the front porch." Instead of a waiting room, there's "the family room."
"What we call things matters," said
Kirby said these touches aren't just superior to yesterday's dingy decor and standard-issue hospital meals -- they actually improve patient care. The community seems to love it, too. Six thousand residents attended the hospital's open house this spring to see the building for themselves. But some economists question the extent to which all this luxury really influences health and, more importantly, how much it's costing the health care system.
"There's an interesting debate here," said
'A paradigm shift'
No new hospitals are now under construction in
The project, if built, will look a lot like
"It is a market. Patients can go elsewhere. We want them to feel welcome and want them to feel comfortable," said MUSC lobbyist
MUSC isn't the only local hospital taking cues from the hospitality industry.
"There's a growing body of evidence that does indicate that the built environment influences health status indicators and health outcomes," said
Some design elements, including sunlight, natural views and soothing colors, can improve blood pressure, reduce heart rates and shorten hospital stays, he said.
"When you come into a hospital setting, typically . that's white walls and long hallways and it just feels -- it can be intimidating and uncomfortable," said Kirby, the Baptist Parkridge executive. "We've done a lot of research to show lighting makes a difference. The colors we choose make a difference. What can we do to make sure it's not an intimidating environment? There's no place like home, but what can we do to make it feel warm and welcoming?"
It's a paradigm shift, she explained. Hospitals typically focus on treating illness, performing surgeries and triaging emergencies. Baptist Parkridge looks different than older hospitals because "this is a healing environment."
"We're focused on health and wellness," she said. "When would you have ever thought about waking up and saying to a girlfriend, 'Hey, let's go grab a cup of coffee and go walk on the walking trail and they have this really cool class about journaling and stress management and let's go to the spa!' on a hospital campus?"
'Bells and whistles'
Many experts believe designing a beautiful hospital is also better for business.
"Hospitals want to increase the percentage of patients that have good health insurance. That helps in their overall balance sheet," Allison said. "(Patients) have the choice. They're more informed consumers and so hospitals are competing to capture those patients."
"It was all a first-class experience," said
Warren, 62, who is insured, has not received a bill yet and doesn't know how much he will owe. This was his first trip to the new hospital, about a 30-minute drive from his home.
While the facility is targeted to serve communities in northwest
"We found quality of care matters -- not surprisingly -- but that amenities were a bigger driver of where people ended up receiving their care," he said.
That's not really surprising, either. Amenities are often more obvious to patients than quality of care. It can be tricky, for example, to figure out how well doctors at a given hospital perform in the operating room, and much easier to notice that its lobby was recently upgraded or that new whirlpool tubs were installed in the labor and delivery rooms.
It also makes sense that patients choose nicer, newer hospitals because they're not responsible for the full bill. Private health insurance companies or the
"Here, the government is on the hook for it and patients aren't paying full out of pocket for these bells and whistles. The fact that patients enjoy this stuff -- should that weigh in the balance?" Romley asked.
"This is happening throughout the country," but it's still hard to move beyond anecdotal evidence to support either argument, he said. "The truth probably lies somewhere in between."
'The right people'
This hospital trend isn't unique to
"The surface decor of the hospital contributes a very small percentage of the initial cost," Allison said. "The reality is the hospital operates 24/7, 365 days a year. Outside of say, airports, it's the most utilized building that the public ever engages . the physical building of the hospital is a tiny fraction of the life cycle cost over the life of that building."
During a recent tour of Baptist Parkridge, Kirby quickly pointed out its unique physical features -- the
"We've had people come from all over to look and say, 'Hey! This hospital looks like a performing arts center! I mean, the walls, the stone, the water features -- it's beautiful!' And it is and you can have a beautiful place and it's wonderful and that lasts about 30 days," she said. "It's the magic that happens inside. It's the people."
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