Architects answer hospitals crisis call

//August 21, 2009

Architects answer hospitals crisis call

//August 21, 2009

Recognizing advantages to patient safety, Princeton HealthCare puts design first in laying out roomsA handrail on the wall alongside a patient’s hospital bed to the toilet should reduce the incidence of one of the more common accidents hospital managements have to deal with. And using the same design for all patient rooms — each with the same places for the bed, medications, mirror and toilet — also helps avoid accidents.

Those are two examples of what is known as “evidence-based design,” the key differentiator between Princeton HealthCare System’s University Medical Center of Princeton, now under construction in Plainsboro, and others.

“In a crisis situation, where a caregiver has to rush into a room, they know where [everything] is,” said Phil Toussaint, associate principal at Princeton-based RMJM, a design and architecture firm. RMJM has partnered with design firm HOK, of St. Louis, for the project.

The $447 million hospital project claims it incorporates “the best thinking in hospital design” as it aims to be among the top 10 nationwide in clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction. “Evidence-based design links the quality of the hospital environment, patient healing and the recovery rates in a scientific way,” Toussaint said.

When completed in 2011, it will replace Princeton HealthCare’s current campus, a couple of miles away on downtown Princeton’s Witherspoon Street, which has been its home for 80 years. Princeton HealthCare currently has more than 2,800 employees and some 900 physicians.

The 50-acre site will have 636,000 square feet of interior space, with 238 private patient rooms, emergency rooms, operating suites, ambulatory services and laboratories. Turner Construction, the construction manager for the project, raised the first columns of steel in June 2008.

Plans for the project include several environmentally friendly elements, including 100 percent fresh air (instead of recirculated indoor air) to minimize the spread of disease and prevent against a bioterrorism attack; a 4.6-megawatt cogeneration power plant; an energy recovery system; environmentally friendly lighting and temperature control systems; and sustainable construction materials.

The financial challenges across the state’s health care industry — 25 medical centers have closed since 1992, and six have filed for bankruptcy protection — hasn’t deterred Barry Rabner, chief executive officer of Princeton HealthCare. Thanks to a more-affluent demographic mix, the hospital is less vulnerable to the financial woes underinsured and uninsured patients bring on many urban hospitals, he said.

The “evidence-based design” and other technology improvements, including energy efficiency, should help the hospital save up to 20 percent in operating costs, Rabner said.

Princeton HealthCare also is diversifying its revenue streams outside the conventional reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid and charity-care programs to capture higher margin business from fee-paying customers. Those will include a wound-care center, robotic surgery facilities, upgraded imaging equipment and investments in information technology, Rabner said. It also has the ability to expand by 324,000 square feet and add 160 more private patient rooms, according to company statements.

Rabner put the economic impact of the hospital project in the ballpark of $1.4 billion, as it goes beyond its immediate patient population. That total represents the value of new construction that will occur after Princeton HealthCare vacates its existing campus.

Princeton HealthCare has sold its current hospital site to real estate development firm Lubert-Adler to make way for 280 condominiums and retail space. It also has sold 30 acres housing its 76-bed Merwick Care Center to Princeton University, and is replacing that at the new site with a new, 200-bed facility in partnership with Windsor Healthcare, Rabner said.

Hospital management is in talks with another firm to build a 110- or 120-bed assisted-living facility, and with the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to build a pediatric-care facility, Rabner said. The new campus also will feature a fitness and wellness center of 50,000 square feet, an education department with libraries, and a medical office building, he added.

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