Construction projects for large acute-care hospitals are considerably more complex than those for small, physician-owned hospitals, yet, frequently, physicians on staff are invited to help with the planning.
The work can take months because "this is a tremendous fixed-cost venture, and if you make a mistake in planning, you're bankrupt," says Richard Olds, M.D., chairman of medicine at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwautosa, Wis., which opened a 94-bed, $30 million wing in September 2002. Olds says a major goal for the new wing was to make staff more efficient.
"In the long run, it's the labor costs that can kill a hospital, not the construction costs," he says.
At Froedtert, Olds says, nursing stations were decentralized so nurses are nearer to the rooms they serve. All rooms have gas and electric connections so patients don't need to be moved if their condition deteriorates. And X-ray and other testing equipment can be wheeled to the patient.
Froedtert even built a life-size mock-up of a patient room, asking doctors and staff to test it and make suggestions, he says.
Doctors and nurses need to provide input because "the architects who design the rooms have no idea what happens to the people who use the facility," Olds says.
Joseph Zeccardi, M.D., system-wide chairman of emergency services at South Jersey Healthcare, in Vineland, N.J., says he spent a great deal of time with architects planning a new emergency department at South Jersey's new $147 million, 245-bed flagship hospital, which will open in September 2004.
"The architects had to be patient and understanding because I do not give up easily," Zeccardi says. "I've been in an emergency room for a really long time and my concern is that staff shouldn't be unnecessarily burdened by the things they do all day."
For example, Zeccardi says he insisted on light switches at the doorway of each ED bay as well as next to the patient, because he did not want staff to have to walk to the doorway to turn off the light each time they perform an ophthalmologic exam.
Zeccardi says South Jersey also is investing in a pneumatic tube system that will deliver lab samples and paperwork to various parts of the hospital, and two tube "stations" costing $20,000 each will be in his ED.