LUTZ — It's finally time to check out St. Joseph's Hospital-North, Hillsborough County's first new full-service hospital in 30 years.
It opens Feb. 1 after more than 25 years of planning. And like anyone moving into a new home, its owners love to talk about its grace notes.
"We don't want it to have an institutional feel," said Isaac Mallah, president and chief executive officer of the hospital's parent organization, St. Joseph's-Baptist Health Care.
So the lobby features wood, water and slate, giving it the airy feel of a South Beach hotel. The MRI rooms are decorated with murals of the seashore. And the patient rooms are all large singles, with wood floors and family sitting areas.
But there's also stuff you won't see at the hospital, thanks to an idea borrowed from Disney.
Just like the Magic Kingdom, St. Joseph's-North has a network of nonpublic corridors for laundry carts, meal delivery and other support activities. The result, administrators say, should be a cleaner, quieter and more private environment.
Also, like at Disney, the hospital's 500-plus employees have been trained to help patients and visitors feel at ease. If they're "on stage" in the hospital's public areas — and yes, they do talk like that — employees are expected to make eye contact and smile.
St. Joseph's-North will serve northern Hillsborough and southern Pasco counties.
The St. Joseph's hospital system, which is part of the larger BayCare Health System, bought the land for the hospital in 1984. It took nearly another two decades to win the state and local regulatory approvals needed for the $225 million facility.
There are a few forms of specialty care, such as open-heart surgery and caring for babies who need to be in a neonatal intensive care unit, that the hospital won't provide.
Otherwise, St. Joseph's-North will be a full-service hospital. That means a full emergency department, four labor and delivery suites and 12 private suites for moms and babies to recover together. Surgical units will do general and orthopedic surgery, urology, vascular and thoracic surgery, outpatient pediatric surgery, endoscopy and diagnostic catheterizations.
It is also a hospital built using what's known as evidence-based design. That's the practice of building hospitals in ways that research has shown to help improve patient care and outcomes.
"A lot of thought and effort has gone into the design," said chief operating officer Paula McGuiness, who started her career as an operating room nurse.
• • •
To see that design in action, consider the nurses' stations.
No patient room is more than 60 feet away. Medicine and nutrition stations are also close by.
The idea is to make it easier for nurses to deliver patient care.
Patient rooms also include space for families. Small couches fold out into sleeper beds. All rooms, even those for intensive care patients, have full bathrooms with showers.
In intensive care, the showers aren't for the patients, but for their families, who will be welcome to stay at bedside.
The hospital wants to make it easier for relatives to stay with patients. It's good to have someone watching if a patient's condition changes. Plus, older patients are more lucid with their loved ones in the room.
Administrators have used evidence-based design on a larger scale, too. The emergency department is near the high-tech imaging equipment that doctors often need to diagnose badly injured or seriously ill patients.
For hospital employees, starting fresh gives them a chance to shape how patient care will be delivered.
"Here we had the ability to start off exactly where we wanted to be," said Joanne Mayers, a 16-year veteran of St. Joseph's Hospital who transferred to the new hospital to be director of patient services.
Among the advantages: Unlike at older hospitals, the equipment, the room layouts and the employee training at St. Joseph's-North are all the same for everyone.
That makes it easier to offer standardized care.
Software tracks every piece of equipment so nurses can find it quickly. The pharmacy is highly automated to be more efficient and reduce errors. Advanced nurse call systems send messages from patients directly to a nurse's phone.
Privacy and security were major considerations, too. All visitors will have electronic photo IDs giving them access only to the floors and areas relevant to the patients they are visiting.
Even going home will be different. Patients will leave through a private discharge lobby, not the main lobby, so they don't feel like they are on display.
Finally, there will be no smoking at this hospital. Not by the staff. Not by the patients. Not by visitors. Not outside on the sidewalks. Not in the parking lot. Not even in someone's private car on the property.
The hospital says it can provide nicotine replacement therapy for patients with a doctor's order, and its gift shop will sell over-the-counter products for others.
Enforcing the no-smoking rule may be a challenge, administrators say, but it won't catch employees by surprise.
"It's a lot easier to say that this is a smoke-free campus up front when you're hiring people," Mallah said.
• • •
Other aspects of the hospital's design aren't obvious because it could be years before they are needed.
St. Joseph's-North has more operating rooms than it will need at first. The extras are shelled in, but not yet equipped.
The building's support and mechanical systems also are sized to handle the demands of a larger hospital.
And the three-story building itself is engineered so that two more floors can be added in the future, bringing the total number of beds to 350, without having to shut the place down.
"The challenge of this," Mallah said, "has been to design a hospital to be relevant and flexible well into the future, for the next 50 years."
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.