One measure of a good musical is that you walk out of the theater whistling one of the tunes. I don’t know what the measures are for hospital construction updates, but I do know that I walked out of a recent presentation about the new Princeton hospital rising on Route 1 at Plainsboro Road thinking that the new hospital is going to be so incredible that I hope someday I can be a patient there.
The presentation was made by Barry Rabner, president and CEO of the Princeton HealthCare System and the University Medical Center at Princeton, speaking at a business advocacy group in Plainsboro, the township in which the new hospital will be located.
Martha Moore, one of U.S. 1’s ad sales people, went with me to the meeting. When I blurted out afterward that I hoped I could go to this promised land of medical care one day, she said she was feeling the same way. Only then did we realize our collective over-exuberance. No, we do not wish a stay in the hospital on anyone, not even ourselves. But if we do have to go, let’s hope that it’s to a place such as the one described by Rabner. It’s not your everyday medical center.
The Princeton hospital has been in the news lately. The steel framework for the new structure will be topped off this Thursday, December 3. The remainder of the construction at the old FMC site is expected to take another two years, and Rabner says everything is on schedule. And when Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, went out on the hustings a few weeks ago to drum up support for healthcare reform, she paid a visit to Princeton hospital.
If the healthcare crisis is at least partially related to an antiquated infrastructure, then the new Princeton hospital (and the similarly designed Capital Health hospital that is rising over Interstate 95 in Hopewell Township) may be part of the solution. Just consider the design of the rooms at the new medical center and compare them to the rooms at the last hospital you visited.
For starters, as Rabner presented the overview to the Plainsboro business group, all the rooms — 238 planned at the new facility — are singles. (The same is true, incidentally, at the new 237-bed Capital Health campus in Hopewell.) When that news was first presented, I remember feeling some incredulity — single rooms sound awfully extravagant when we customers (or hopefully customers of the far future) are facing double- digit percentage increases in our health insurance premiums every year.
But it’s not an extravagance, argued Rabner. First the old-fashioned double rooms cannot always accommodate two people: disease types, treatment protocols, and genders have to be matched. Once roomies are selected, other trade-offs occur: Infections are spread, sleep is deprived, and patient-doctor communications are compromised if a patient becomes reluctant to share his or her private matters with a previously unknown roommate and that person’s family and friends.
Each of the new rooms is identical. That means when a nurse, doctor, orderly, or candy-striper enters the room, they know exactly where the medical equipment and other supplies are. The bed is positioned just around the corner from the bathroom, and — since falls are a major complication at hospitals — a continuous railing leads from the bed to the bathroom to the toilet. A sliding door leading to the bathroom has a notch through which the railing goes. Each room also has a sofa that can be converted to a sofa bed to accommodate your family member or friend.
But, as they say, wait, there’s more. A flat-screen television will pick up a sensor built into the badges of all hospital personnel. When a staffer walks in the room the person’s name and title will flash up on the screen. And the discerning patient — or his family friend/advocate — will also be to tell whether the hospital worker has washed his hands. That’s because, in an effort to reduce infections that are a potential hazard in any hospital, the first appliance greeting anyone as they walk through the door is the sink. When the door opens a light goes on behind the faucet. It doesn’t go off until the water is turned on.
The patient tower faces south and overlooks a retention basin that will “look like a lake,” Rabner promises. Between Plainsboro Road and the Millstone River, the old FMC outbuildings will be demolished, and the space will become a passive recreation area with bikeways and walkways. The area along the river bank, says Rabner “is magnificent.”
After labor costs, utilities are the biggest item in a hospital’s budget. The new utility plant will be a co-generation facility that will provide 100 percent power back-up if the public utility goes down. If both systems fail then diesel generators will kick in.
The new $442 million hospital will take up only 50 acres of the 160-acre site, but that compares to its current nine-acre site in downtown Princeton. “We don’t want to run into the same problem 40 years from now that we are in now,” says Rabner. Other healthcare facilities are in the planning stages for the site, and names such as the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Memorial Sloan Kettering are being mentioned.
There will be “no dabbling,” says Rabner. “If we can’t do it well we won’t do it at all.”
At the end I blurted out three questions for Rabner.
First, recalling that one of the most stressful aspects of going to the current Princeton medical center is anticipating the parking crunch, I asked how much parking would be at the new facility. Something like 2,600 spaces, Rabner replied, on surface lots in the beginning, but with the capacity for parking garages when needed.
Second, thinking of the ambulances that now chug down crowded Nassau Street to get to the current emergency room, I wondered how the access would be at the new location. Coming up Route 1 from the south, emergency vehicles would have their own ramp leading right up to the door. From the north, ambulances would have to take the Scudders Mill Road jughandle — a slightly less direct approach. But, as Rabner pointed out earlier, the new location “is closer to 70 percent of the people we serve than the old site.”
Finally, evoking the celebrity status that the fictional “Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital” has on national television, I ask a loaded question: Where is Dr. House’s office going to be at the new hospital? Rabner groans. The acerbic, sarcastic Dr. House represents exactly the opposite of what Rabner hopes will be practiced at the new facility.
We plan to simply take Rabner’s word for it, and to admire this new facility on the Route 1 landscape from afar.