Private Rooms Make Business Sense

June 7, 2004
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ZEELAND — In planning a new $36.1 million facility, Zeeland Community Hospital administrators wanted to know if an emerging national trend was the right path to follow.

Talking to their counterparts at other hospitals, they concluded that the benefits of converting to all private rooms certainly outweighed the additional up-front development costs involved.

At the hospitals they visited, they found patients who were more satisfied, staff who were more productive, facilities that operated more efficiently and lower rates in hospital-acquired infections.

“We think it’s well worth the investment for our patients’ comfort and the efficient operations of the hospital and for care,” said Dave Newton, vice president of community and ancillary services at Zeeland Community Hospital.

And that investment is a key feature in the 57-bed, 140,000-square-foot facility planned for acreage along Chicago Drive east of Zeeland. The project’s groundbreaking is scheduled for June 21.

“It just makes sense from every perspective,” Newton said.

Nationwide and in West Michigan, a growing number of hospitals are converting from semi-private to private rooms when building a new facility or undertaking major renovations.

In addition to Zeeland Community, Spectrum Health’s new Heart Center and Saint Mary’s Mercy Medical Center’s Lacks Cancer Center will feature private rooms. Metropolitan Hospital is planning to convert the remaining semi-private rooms in its assisted-breathing and rehab units to private rooms with the development of a new suburban hospital campus, and Holland Community Hospital’s planned 30-bed critical care unit will have private rooms.

At the end of a major upcoming renovation and expansion, the 205-bed Holland Community will have 90 private rooms, up from 47 presently, and plans to convert many more semi-private rooms in the future.

“We’re definitely moving in the same direction. We ultimately want to get to as many private rooms as possible,” said John Speeter, Holland Community’s diector of marketing and business development.

Hospital administrators cite numerous benefits from having all or most of their rooms private, all of which center around improved operating efficiency and patient care.

One of the more notable cases is Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, which developed and opened a 343-bed, $181 million facility in 2000.

Since then, Bronson Methodist has seen an 11 percent reduction in the incidence of hospital-acquired infections — also called nosocomial infections.

A typical patient who acquires an infection incurs an additional $13,973 in hospital charges and an increased length of stay, according to data from Bronson Methodist Hospital.

Through private rooms patients also receive the benefits of increased privacy for themselves and their family, and during conversations with physicians, enabling them to speak more candidly.

Converting to private rooms has exceeded the hospital’s expectations, said Frank Sardone, the president and CEO of Bronson Healthcare Group that operates Bronson Methodist Hospital.

Although he said some benefits are hard to quantify, he sees virtually no negatives associated with the change and attributes the hospital’s improved patient satisfaction rates in part to having all private rooms in the new facility.

“I can’t see ever going back to semi-private rooms,” he said.

“The patient, the physician and the family satisfaction has been tremendous, and certainly this is an environment where we can create a safer hospital for patients,” Sardone said. “We did the right thing.”

Beyond the benefits for patients, Bronson Methodist has experienced improved business operations.

Private rooms eliminate the difficulties of matching patients in semi-private rooms and transferring patients, as well as reduces staff time in cleaning and preparing rooms. Bronson Methodist estimates it saves $500,000 annually just in the cost of transfering patients — and that’s a “fairly conservative” estimate, Sardone said.

Too, private rooms avoid the problem of roommates with incompatible personalities —such as when one wants quiet and the other wants the TV blaring or wants to talk.

“Everybody’s been there. You don’t feel well and the last thing you want to do is be with somebody who wants to talk,” said Ingrid Cheslek, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Metro Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Metro, she said, has had all private rooms in its acute-care unit for years and has a “very low” nosocomial infection rate.

The URS architect of the new Zeeland Community Hospital, George Lewis, last year told the Business Journal of another key factor behind the single-room trend.

He explained that greatly increased emphasis on outpatient treatment over the past decade has caused in-patient populations to be composed of more acutely ill people than in the past.

Such patients, he said, are much more likely to require emergency resuscitation and allied procedures in their rooms.

He explained that such procedures can require bulky equipment which two-patient rooms accommodate with difficulty.

This is particularly true, he said, if a second patient in a room happens to have visitors when the services of a so-called crash cart are necessary.

Such procedures can also physically and emotionally stress the room’s other patient.    

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