Long Island Business News
October 18, 2013
LI Hospitals Embrace Luxury
by Claude Solnik
Long Island hospitals are embracing national trends that pump up the luxury in private patient rooms. Large flat-screen TVs, private refrigerators, new furniture and unlimited Internet access – the sort of amenities that have long defined finer hotels – are becoming health-care norms as institutions redefine spaces that, historically, have been more clinical than comfortable.
It’s not just about creature comforts and superfluous amenities. At work is a real drive toward promoting wellness, not to mention competing with rival institutions in a sometimes cut-throat industry.
“If I see a very nice hospital bed and a nice entryway and lobby,” noted Long Island Association Chief Economist John Rizzo, a professor of economics and preventive medicine at Stony Brook University, “that sends a positive signal to me.”
A chief tenet of the new norm is the private room. No longer content to lump patients into shared spaces, hospitals throughout the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, for instance, are fostering a one-per-room boom.
The system’s new Katz Women’s Hospital includes 161 private rooms – 73 at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and 88 at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park – while its Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park recently added a new tower with 50 private rooms.
The Long Island Jewish Medical Center also last year unveiled a 29,000-square-foot cardiovascular and thoracic unit featuring 30 private rooms, each furnished with loveseats designed for overnight stays, full bathrooms with showers, 42-inch flat-screens, desks, mini refrigerators and Internet access.
The North Shore-LIJ system is hardly alone in upping its accommodations. South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside filled its Center for New Beginnings maternity ward with private rooms, while Southampton Hospital has also retrofitted maternity areas with increased privacy and frills.
And last week, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson joined the fray, breaking ground on an expansion that includes the construction of 35 new private rooms and the conversion of another 35 semiprivate rooms to single-occupancy spaces.
The movement is focused equally on medical benefits and attracting patients in a competitive environment. Mather Hospital said in a statement that increased privacy helps “promote healing by reducing noise levels and patient stress,” while also reducing infection risks. A North Shore-LIJ statement noted private rooms in the system’s new cardiovascular unit feature wood floors, colorful motifs and artwork that seeks to create a “warm, welcoming and noninstitutional setting that is sensitive to patient needs and privacy.”
Of course, the rooms also sport the latest bedside technologies, helping health-care providers monitor vital signs remotely and gain quick access to electronic medical records.
But as hospitals add these aesthetic and medical amenities, some observers are questioning whether institutions are spending too much on comfort and not enough on care.
If they are, according to Rizzo, it’s a sign that competition with other hospitals – not medical necessity – may be driving the luxurious upgrades.
“It’s easier to observe hospital amenities than quality of care,” Rizzo noted. “Consumers go with what they can observe. They can’t really observe quality.”
North Shore-LIJ spokesman Terry Lynam said his system stresses that patients shouldn’t be blinded by amenities and should always consider clinical quality more than physical accommodations.
However, a nicer physical space often translates to better-quality care, Lynam noted.
“A lot of it is perception,” he said. “Even though your physical plant is not necessarily a reflection of clinical quality, it’s the perception left with patients, families, physicians and other clinical talent.
“There’s a balance,” Lynam added. “You try to strike a balance between investing in quality and accommodations.”
That being said, many hospitals cite anecdotal evidence that more cheerful and uplifting environments often benefit patients.
John Romley, an assistant professor and economist at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California, sees the relationship between amenities and quality of care as “a continuum.”
Romley agrees that comfort is a good thing, but cites inherent danger in improvements based more on marketing than medicine.
“There’s a gray area,” he said. “It’s going to strengthen their position overall in the marketplace. (But) it’s not unreasonable to worry that hospitals don’t have endless supplies of cash. Perhaps one comes at the expense of the other.”
Lynam said improvement projects like those creating more single-patient rooms throughout North Shore-LIJ are typically paid for through donations and borrowing – and they often pay back hospitals and health systems by making it easier to recruit top-notch staff and further donations.
“Our patient satisfaction scores have spiked,” Lynam said. “You have to believe that the main reason is the physical accommodations.”