Some hospitals are willing to spend money on little luxuries in an effort to boost patient satisfaction.
The phone is ringing off the hook at American Valet Parking in Overland Park, Kan. Who's calling? Hospitals. They've seen the future of healthcare, and it's valet. It's cheap, it's easy, and the public loves it.
American Valet's main clients are hotels and riverboat casinos, but lately the company has "got on this kick of hospitals," says Executive Vice President Brent Dennis. "Now we're doing it at four hospitals. I've got a file folder full of others that are interested."
He says he also has a file of testimonials from patients and hospital executives thanking him for the service. One grateful client is Kevin Kast, president of 176-bed St. Joseph Health Center in St. Charles, Mo., who told the company about how much his patients appreciate the valet service.
Kast received a handwritten note from a patient who had pulled up to the front door to find "a very nice gentleman" who parked her car and helped her--with her oxygen tank--enter the building. "This is the best thing St. Joseph could do for people who have to take themselves to the doctor, who are on oxygen and limited as to how far they can walk," she wrote. "It was always such an ordeal before."
In Los Angeles, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has offered valet parking for about 10 years, says spokesman Barry Zepel. The 846-bed hospital foots the bill for the service, which is used by about 250 patients per day. Cedars-Sinai outsources the contract.
Patients like the service because it makes them feel comfortable, Zepel says. "They feel they have added security in the parking lot," he says. "They are able to ask questions and get guidance into the hospital. It provides a valuable convenience for visitors to the hospital."
In Metairie, La., 500-bed East Jefferson General Hospital launched valet service when it opened its new outpatient pavilion two years ago.
Bruce Curson, chief operating officer at East Jefferson, says the service is optional for patients with crutches, canes and wheelchairs, and for older people. "It helps with risk management," he says. The patients love it and don't abuse it.
Valet parking provides high-visibility, high-touch service, yet it's low-tech and low-cost. If hospitals outsource the service, full-time equivalents don't show up on the payroll. American Valet even provides health insurance for its employees.
Usually the hospitals absorb the cost of the parking service. American Valet typically charges between $11.25 and $15 per hour per person, Dennis says. "Let's say you take $13 an hour; let's say it's two people. You're talking about $1,000 a week vs. a parking garage. That's not a lot of money.
"You have an ambassador on the curb," he says. "You have somebody telling (patients) where the doctor's office is and the outpatient clinic is."
Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Miami calls its valet service the "VIP greeter program." Patients who call the 504-bed hospital and are placed on hold listen to a recording that reminds them they're entitled to the service. "We are dedicated to helping our veterans and improving customer service," the announcement says.
The VA valet service handles 350 cars per day, says Carlos Ruiz, contracting officer for the service. The VA pays for the service and outsources the contract. There is no charge to patients.
"We survey patients annually before contract renewal. People are very satisfied with the service," Ruiz says. In addition to patients, visitors use the service. A few blocks away, University of Miami Baskin Palmer Eye Institute and Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center also offer valet parking. "We are in an urban setting, where parking is a challenge," says Chris Dudley, spokesman for University of Miami Medical Center. "We want to make sure our patients can get to us easily."
Patients pay $3 for the service at the University of Miami centers, and the hospital pays the rest.
"In Florida we have daytime temperatures above 90 degrees and quite frequently rain, so that makes valet parking more attractive," Dudley says. The service especially helps older people, who otherwise might have trouble traversing the 67-acre University of Miami-Jackson Memorial Hospital. The medical campus is in a high-density, high-traffic area near two interstate highways. The feedback from patients has been "very positive, and the demand is tremendous," Dudley adds.
Dennis has hospital clients in Colorado, Louisiana and Mississippi in addition to eastern Missouri. But the company has none in the Kansas City area. "They don't do valet at any of the hospitals here," he says. "Parking is pretty darn easy."