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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 1 year ago

Power to the Patient

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Competition among hospitals in the region is hot. One facility hopes a push for more privacy will drive patient satisfaction, and in turn, growth.

When Dia Nichols left his position as head of a Virginia hospital in May 2013 for Florida to assume the top role at Northside Hospital, he knew he'd come to the right place: a medical facility on the rise servicing tens of thousands of residents per year.

Since taking the helm, the hospital, located off a bustling section of St. Petersburg's 49th Street, has charged forward under his leadership. A heavy emphasis has been placed on both technology assistance and quality of trained personnel.

“In the four years that I've been here we've evolved to be a destination hospital for some of your higher-end services like cardiac surgeries,” says Nichols, CEO at the hospital. “The neuro-sciences are another area in which we have been able to greatly expand, brain and spine surgeries.”

Serving area residents since 1976, Northside has 288 beds and has been known to many locals as a premier cardiac hub because of its Tampa Bay Heart Institute, where more than 300 heart surgeries were performed in 2016 alone. In the same year emergency visits totaled 39,232 people and admissions were 10,341, while a total of 52,353 patients were treated across the gamut of Northside's services.

Now the hospital is moving toward an industry-wide trend that's been building since around the turn of the century - private rooms for patients. That's now considered standard in hospital construction projects, as opposed to decades ago, when there were two to four beds per room.

Nowhere is the luxury of private patient rooms more evident at Northside than in its new orthopedic wing, where Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the hospital's Nashville-based parent company, recently funded a $20 million renovation. The orthopedic wing now houses 16 beds and is equipped with cutting-edge medical technology for the department's six surgeons. (Another surgeon is joining the staff soon.) 

The orthopedic renovations were completed in April and comprise the first of a two-phase operation, with another $10 million yet to be spent. Nichols says there are plans to eventually make all the hospital's rooms private.

He also notes that partially because the orthopedic surgeons — known in medical circles informally as orthopods — played a key role in the design of the renovation, feedback has been positive. “As I call it we kind of 'mac daddy' them out with flat-screen TVs, private showers and that kind of thing,” Nichols says. “And we've just gotten rave reviews from these patients that are coming here so far.”

But private rooms for patients aren't just for privacy's sake or luxury. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 2 million hospital-derived infections kill roughly 100,000 Americans every year. So the push toward private rooms isn't just about an up-charge to the patient's hospital stay, it's about preventing the spread of contagions. Other compelling reasons for the move from shared to private rooms include better sleep, which helps patients recover more quickly; happiness between the patient and their families; and psychological balance.

“I've been an orthopedic surgeon at Northside Hospital for several years ... (and) these improvements allow for a better environment for my patients,” says Dr. Ahmad Nematbakhsh, director of orthopedics at Northside.

In addition to the construction project, running Northside is an expensive proposition. Salaries, wages and benefits for staff totaled $89.15 million in 2016, hospital officials say, while the facility paid $6.37 million in taxes. The cost to treat patients without insurance — a pain point for nearly every hospital — was $19.9 million. HCA doesn't break out revenue for individual hospitals in the chain.

Nichols says with private rooms being the standard of today and the future, patient satisfaction is more often affected by their experience during a recovery stay. “Look, people want their own rooms — family members are coming to visit, they want to be comfortable — that's a norm now,” Nichols says. “This has done exactly what we thought it was going to do: Patients love it.”

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