Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center has enlisted New York fashion designer Nicole Miller to do something about that great patient equalizer: hospital gowns.
No matter who you are, maintaining a shred of dignity is generally hopeless when wearing the traditional gown of wafer-thin material with free and open access to the most intimate parts of the human body.
Many have tried to do something about this indignity before, but Hackensack just may be the first to offer patients something to wear that they might actually want to take home. Although some may say that disappearing designer gowns could pose a problem for the hospital, materials manager Paul Onufer disagrees. Far from it, he says.
"We're all here to do what we can for patients, and if they have a happier stay here, then we've achieved our goal," Onufer says.
The new Nicole Miller line was formally unveiled earlier this month at a fashion show at the Four Seasons hotel off Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan. (Patients actually have been wearing the gowns since late October.) Five sullen-faced models posed in the 100% cotton outfits on a spotlighted runway high above a crowd of fashion mavens, media people and the medical center's employees. Wearing one of the designer robes, supermodel Rachel Hunter mingled among the guests as they sipped wine and nibbled on hors d'oeuvres of foie gras, caviar and smoked salmon.
The gowns are in keeping with a hospitalwide strategy to "exceed all patient expectations," says Nancy Corcoran, administrative director of guest services, a title that sounds more typical of the hospitality industry than the hospital industry.
Along the same lines, the 629-bed medical center features a marble lobby, registration desk, doormen and cappuccino bar. Hackensack is the same hospital that built a day spa on the top floor of its ambulatory surgery building (Nov. 27, p. 30).
The idea for designer gowns came out of discussions with patients, who constantly have complained of being fashion-victimized by the traditional gowns, Corcoran says. Hospital purchasing tried to work out a solution with its vendors.
"They kept coming up with variations of the same theme: ties, dreary prints, nothing innovative, we felt," Corcoran says.
The hospital approached Miller about nine months ago. "Gown" is somewhat of a misnomer. Miller designed tops, boxer shorts, drawstring pants and gowns that all snap instead of tie. They come in light green and navy blue with an overlaying print of medical equipment such as stethoscopes and syringes--much more fun than it sounds.
Materials manager Onufer says that before now, he purchased 20,000 gowns a year at $6 per gown to have the necessary 1,800 gowns available daily for both inpatients and outpatients. The new gowns will cost more than double: $13 for the gown, $11 for the tops, $7 for the shorts and $12 for the pants. But because they are made of more durable fabric, Onufer says he anticipates they will last almost twice as long. So far, that has proved to be true, he adds.
To discourage disappearing gowns, Miller's gownwear is on sale in the hospital gift shop with an appropriate markup.
There are other profitmaking opportunities as well: Hackensack will be the broker for any hospital interested in purchasing the gowns for its own patients.