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Nice view after the surgery

Hospitals ramp up patient amenities

An exterior view of the $30 million expansion of \ Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital - Needham. An exterior view of the $30 million expansion of \ Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital - Needham.
By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / October 8, 2009

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Free wireless Internet service, live plants, reclining chairs, European showers, flat-screen TVs, and pleasant views more often describe plush hotel accommodations than sterile hospital rooms.

But more health care facilities are now offering those amenities, as patients demand comfort and privacy in addition to quality care, executives say.

To meet those needs and keep patients happy in an increasingly competitive market, local medical institutions, including Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham, have recently completed renovations that add more private inpatient rooms. They follow growth at other area hospitals, including an expansion at Emerson Hospital in Concord.

“It’s the nicest inpatient unit you’ll find anywhere,’’ Jeff Liebman, president and chief executive officer of the Needham hospital, boasted of his facility’s new wing. “It’s really more of a hotel setting than a hospital setting. It’s a deluxe accommodation.’’

Hospital officials also point out that the larger private rooms are safer in terms of infection control, and allow for the use of more technology.

Last weekend, the Needham institution celebrated the completion of its $30 million expansion, which includes a state-of-the-art emergency department and 20 private, amenity-filled rooms.

The new wing is the hospital’s first construction in more than 40 years. The expansion is awaiting final state approval, which could come any day, according to hospital officials. Currently, the hospital does not have any private inpatient rooms, and the emergency department uses curtains to separate patients.

The new inpatient rooms have free wireless Internet service, flat-screen TVs, and private showers. Officials say the light-filled rooms feature a full wall of windows and a color scheme of soothing earth tones.

Liebman said the hospital has grown significantly since 2002, when the Beth Israel chain took it over. He said the affiliation has attracted new doctors and patients.

In an effort to accommodate patients’ needs and to attract new ones, the hospital started planning for an expansion five years ago, he said.

“This is the most competitive suburban market there is,’’ Liebman said. “We have to realize we’re only 8 miles from Boston so we have to provide the same or better value. If we can do that, people will stay local. If we can’t, they’ll go downtown.’’

In addition to the downtown Boston hospitals, Needham has a number of nearby competitors, including Newton-Wellesley, the MetroWest Medical Center campuses in Framingham and Natick, Norwood Hospital, and Faulkner Hospital in Boston’s Jamaica Plain section.

Liebman said that by 2012, his hospital hopes to be in the top 2 percent in terms of patient satisfaction among similar hospitals, and he thinks the new emergency department and inpatient rooms will go a long way toward reaching that goal. It is now in the top 20 percent, he said.

Newton-Wellesley Hospital has also seen significant growth in the past several years and has undergone several renovation projects, including the opening Monday of its new inpatient unit of 24 private rooms for medical and surgical patients. The hospital also recently opened a new cancer center, and two years ago opened a new emergency department.

Dr. Michael Jellinek, president of Newton-Wellesley, said the renovations were driven by growth and a desire to keep patients happy. Until recently, the hospital had 36 private rooms; the renovation will bring that total to 84.

“Clearly patients value a private room, and until recently, we were only able to accommodate that in a low number of rooms,’’ Jellinek said.

He described the new rooms as “magnificent’’ compared with the older, cramped ones that he said made it difficult for doctors and nurses to treat patients and for families to visit.

“They are larger, very airy and all have nice big windows,’’ Jellinek said.

Each new room has a couch that turns into a bed, as well as two televisions, one for the patient and one for visitors.

But Jellinek said the rooms aren’t lavish.

“Some places have tried to make them into luxury five-star hotel rooms,’’ Jellinek said. “That’s not our intent. There’s no winged chair, or wood paneling. It’s to be comfortable and functional.’’

Emerson Hospital in Concord completed a $35 million renovation and expansion project earlier this year. The project included new surgical suites, a maternity unit, and a radiology department.

Christine Schuster, president and chief executive officer of Emerson, said the renovations included more space for medical procedures and the latest technology, but was also designed to provide additional comfort and privacy for patients.

“The consumers expect that you’re going to have all the amenities,’’ she said. “Unfortunately, aesthetics is a proxy for quality.’’

Schuster said Emerson was losing maternity patients because it did not offer private rooms. Now, large private rooms have plenty of space for family, a computer for patient use and free wireless Internet, she said.

Also, operating recovery rooms have large windows with scenic views.

“We have patients who don’t want to leave,’’ Schuster said.

But those private rooms aren’t just about providing comfort for the patient. Hospital officials say such rooms provide more space for medical staff to treat the patient and prevent the spread of disease and infection.

Joe Kirkpatrick, senior vice president for health care finance and managed care at the Massachusetts Hospital Association, said many health care centers have begun reinvesting in their infrastructure in recent years after a long dry spell between 1995 and 2005.

“In addition to ensuring that a hospital’s physical plant and equipment is up to date, we’re seeing increased efforts to prevent infections and the spread of highly contagious diseases like H1N1 in hospitals,’’ Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “This is translating into, among other things, a trend toward more private rooms.’’

Also, Liebman said, by renovating the rooms, the Needham hospital was able to put in new equipment and technology that wasn’t available in the older rooms. For example, if a patient’s call is not answered immediately at the nurses’ station, it will ring through to the duty nurse’s cellphone.

The hospital rooms are all set up so that when the doors are open, a nurse can walk the halls and see a patient’s bed without entering. Floors are level throughout, so there is less chance patients will fall when walking to the bathroom.

Penny Greenberg, executive vice president and chief nursing officer at Beth Israel’s facility in Needham, said all those changes will make it easier for doctors and nurses to do their jobs and provide a more comfortable environment for the patients. “The high-quality care we currently give will not change,’’ she said. “It will just be easier to give it.’’

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com.

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