Open space Virtua hopes new setup will change relationship with its patients

You’ve seen an examination room, a consult room and an imaging room.
What if all three were in the same line of sight?

Virtua Health’s new open-space design at its Medford center is allowing doctors and specialists to work in the same office space — rather than in independent office areas — allowing easy access to an exam room and consult area.

Call it modern workplace layout meeting modern medicine.

“When my team came to me with the concept for this center, it was clear that this could be a new path for the future,” said Richard Miller, CEO and president of Virtua. “This complex was designed with very unique features to improve the experience of patients and their families.”

The center began operating in December.

Among the newest gadgets are the three patient check-in kiosks, which look like the ones you use to pick up movie tickets at a theater. The kiosks allow IDs to be scanned, and patients can move into whichever sub-area waiting room they need to.

Primary care, cardiology care services and urgent care are included at the center, with plans to add other specialties in a timeshare fashion throughout the week.

“In the ‘team pod,’ caregivers and physicians can interact at the heart of the practice, where there is a full line of sight to all exam rooms so clinicians are close to patient activity and fully aware when they are needed,” Virtua said in a prepared statement.

Also near the exam rooms are secondary waiting rooms to allow family members to be closer during the process.

The room was designed by Martin Valins, the principal architect and planning director of The Tono Group. He said Virtua wanted to improve patient experience, have a forward-thinking approach and offer a sustainable and affordable space.

Diane Hinkle, vice president of operations at Virtua Medical Group, said it’s a design that Virtua feels should be replicated.

“We would love to use this in our future projects,” she said. “If we look to develop another medical center, we would love to use this concept.”

Valins said it aims to change the habits of the care providers.

“You are trying to build a bridge to the future while crossing it at the same time,” he said.

The design, he said, is a new approach to the traditional medical space, which often keeps doctors locked away in their offices.

“Normally you would see a doctor (who) … at the end of the day would retract to their office,” Valins said. “Rather than be in their office on their own, they now have an open space” to encourage increased collaborations and interactions.

“It’s not that they weren’t doing that before, but now they have the space for it.”

Valins said the design should have had zero impact on the cost, compared with a traditional medical office layout.

Hinkle said the changes and new technology are important investments.

“So many factors go into what is a good investment. Anything improving clinical quality and safety, we will put our efforts into that,” Hinkle said. “The whole thing is about patient loyalty.”

Even if it means embracing changes as the patient’s habits change.

“If we put in a kiosk, and if more patients use it, we can downsize or shift staffing to another initiative,” Hinkle said. “It becomes a tradeoff.”

Valins agreed, adding that changing habits won’t take place overnight, but the impact of this new design will be felt by both patients and providers.

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Senate panel approves updated North Jersey casino bill

The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to advance the latest bill seeking a voter referendum on the expansion of casino gaming beyond Atlantic City.The legislation is the result of a deal brokered earlier this week by Gov. Chris Christie between Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus), who each had previously sponsored competing bills.

The bill advanced Thursday is nearly identical to Sweeney’s previous measure, with the addition of a guaranteed $1 billion capital investment for each project, ensuring that any new casino will be constructed as a resort-style destination rather than so-called “slots in a box.”

Sweeney and state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) are co-sponsors on the latest bill.

“This will give New Jersey the opportunity to expand the state’s gaming market in ways that will benefit the entire state,” Sweeney said. “It will provide substantial investments that will create jobs and fuel economic opportunity in North Jersey, generate resources to aid senior citizens and the disabled and raise funds to support the revitalization of the Atlantic City region.”

A three-fifths legislative majority will be required by August in order to place the question on this November’s ballot.

“We must recapture the finite amount of gaming that is currently leaving the state and make our casino industry competitive,” Sarlo said. “It’s not only about regaining the gaming industry in New Jersey, it is also about the $4 billion in new investment in North Jersey and the $3 billion for Atlantic City that will go to private sector construction and economic growth over the next 15 years.”

Other features of the bill include:

  • Two new gaming permits will be granted. Both will go to planned casinos at least 72 miles from Atlantic City, though it was widely understood that both will go to counties in northern New Jersey;
  • The permits must go to two different counties (Hudson, Bergen and Essex all have expressed interest);
  • Only those currently holding a license to operate in New Jersey will be eligible to apply for one of the new permits (they must be majority owners of the new casinos);
  • Prospective permit holders will have to commit to a mandatory $1 billion minimum capital investment;
  • During the first 15 years of operation, 49 percent of the public revenue generated by the two new casinos would be pumped back into Atlantic City to assist the city in its economic recovery.

Lawmakers from the Atlantic City area have criticized plans calling for the city to lose its intrastate monopoly on casino gaming.

“This might be a new plan to expand casino gaming, but it still stinks,” said state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield). “No one has been able to explain to me how successful North Jersey casinos will be when, not if, New York City gets gaming. When that happens, casinos in both Atlantic City and North Jersey would close, further exacerbating Atlantic City’s and New Jersey’s sluggish economy.”

“Today’s understudied and underwhelming proposal to expand casino gaming to North Jersey is no different than the previous ones offered — it puts thousands of Atlantic County middle-class residents out of work,” added Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield). “Don’t just take my word for it, yesterday Moody’s Investors Service warned that ‘…the additional competition will likely cause more casinos to close, which would be credit negative for Atlantic City.’”

The bill now awaits full Senate consideration.

Legislators propose state takeover of Atlantic City

Senate President Steve Sweeney, state Sen. Paul Sarlo and state Sen. Kevin O’Toole announced their plans Tuesday to put forth a bipartisan bill calling for a state takeover of Atlantic City’s finances.“Taxpayers from Bergen County to Cape May have sent hundreds of millions of dollars to Atlantic City in recent years, and this fiscal reform will ensure that their elected representatives can be watchful stewards of their past, present and future investments,” said O’Toole (R-Wayne). “This is the pathway to create an efficient, accountable and transparent Atlantic City government. It will expedite the city’s evolution into a new prime-time destination for people on the East Coast and beyond with diverse options for jobs, tourism and entertainment.”

Though details of the plan were not immediately available, as the bill has not yet been formally introduced, Sweeney (D-West Deptford) noted that the city’s budget is unsustainable and unacceptable given its current population size.

“If the Legislature doesn’t act on this in the immediate future, I will support a declaration of bankruptcy for Atlantic City,” said Sweeney. “We have to do what needs to be done to bring financial stability and responsibility to the city.”

The Press of Atlantic City, which obtained a draft copy of the bill, is reporting that the legislation would call on the state Division of Local Government Services and the Local Finance Board to assist in the city’s affairs.

“We want to give the taxpayers of New Jersey an active voice in how public funds are spent in Atlantic City,” Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) said. “The state continues to provide substantial resources to a city with a budget that is far out of proportion for its size and population. We have to bring responsible financial management and practices to Atlantic City.”

News of the proposed takeover comes just a day after Trenton dealt another potential blow to the city Monday, when Gov. Chris Christie announced that he had helped broker a deal between Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) that will possibly pave the way for casino gaming in northern New Jersey to become a reality.

In a fiery statement released late Monday, state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Northfield) blasted the proposal.

“A state takeover of Atlantic City would be a disaster,” said Whelan, who served as mayor of the city from 1990 to 2001. “Given its abysmal, 30-year track record in taking over school districts, I seriously doubt the state of New Jersey will be the white knight to save Atlantic City. More importantly, a state takeover threatens to disenfranchise the residents of Atlantic City, removing their democratically elected government. Anyone who supports a state takeover is no friend of Atlantic City, and I urge all of my colleagues to vehemently fight this ill-conceived plan.”

Atlantic City is already under the watch of an emergency management team appointed by Christie last year.

Christie did not mention the takeover proposal or any plan regarding the city during Tuesday’s State of the State address.