Construction completed, Stamford Hospital unveils new face

By Kevin Zimmerman

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Four-plus years and $450 million later, the new Stamford Hospital is ready for business.

Beginning on Sept. 23 and continuing through the weekend, about 120 patients will be moved in stages to the new facility on the same campus, starting with the least-critical cases and ending with ICU patients. Once completed on Sept. 26, the new hospital will mark its official opening and its new address — 1 Hospital Plaza.

Although some landscaping and equipment-moving were still in evidence at the 640,000-square-foot building on Sept. 20, the hospital and staff were more than ready to go, said Liz Longmore, director of clinical operations, who has been coordinating all of Stamford’s different units throughout the project.

“We had this date in place for a very long time,” Longmore said, “and we came in on schedule.”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held Sept. 26.

Timing is everything in health care and that will extend to the unveiling of Stamford’s new emergency room sign, currently covered to avoid patient, visitor and even staff confusion. The sign will be unveiled Sept. 26 more or less simultaneously with the old signs being covered and later removed.

The new hospital’s face is very much patient-oriented, Longmore said, in line with the Planetree philosophy, named for the nonprofit patient-centered care organization of hospitals and other health care organizations headquartered in Derby. The Planetree approach guides organizations in making patient-centered care the centerpiece of a cohesive strategy that accelerates quality improvement, drawing input from patients, long-term care residents, family members and health care professionals. Stamford has been accredited as a Planetree Designated Patient-Centered Hospital, Longmore said, making it one of only several in the country so designated.

The philosophy is most immediately apparent in Stamford’s physical appearance, centered on earth tones, soft colors and wooden floors to make for a warmer environment, rather than the stereotypical hospital’s more sterile, white-and-chrome design, noted Michael Smeriglio, executive director of facilities management. Locally commissioned or donated paintings make up about 40 percent of the facility’s artwork, he said.

Each patient floor is dedicated to a particular branch of medicine — oncology, cardiovascular and so on — with a large mural featuring a specific theme (a Stamford skyline on the ninth floor, a lighthouse on the 10th) at each floor’s elevator bank. That way, Longmore said, if a patient or visitor gets confused about which floor they’re looking for, they have another visual cue to rely upon.

“We’re the only hospital in the county with all private rooms,” Longmore said, with smoked-glass doors and private bathrooms. The rooms are informally divided into specific areas for health care providers, the patient and visitors.

Visitors can stay in the patient’s room overnight, taking advantage of a sofa that can be converted into a twin bed at the push of a button. The sofa also features a pop-up table for computer or dining use; Longmore said the hospital will provide at least one guest tray of food per day per patient.

Especially striking is each room’s patient-engagement system, consisting of a large flat-screen monitor and a keyboard that is sterilized after each patient’s discharge. There, patients can access videos — created by The Get Well Network — about their disease and information about medications and treatments, and can send messages to nurses and housekeeping.

“This is all part of providing a patient-controlled environment, giving them autonomy over managing their condition,” Longmore said. Movies and TV shows can also be accessed via Netflix, and each room features wide views of the city. “They’re nicer and bigger than the first apartment I had in the city,” Longmore laughed.

Curtains have been mostly eliminated, as they catch dust and promote infection; those that are used are antimicrobial and disposable. Copper nanoparticles have been embedded in doorknobs and other high-touch surfaces to further reduce the threat of contamination.

The layout of each room and floor has essentially been “cloned,” so that staff “can focus more on bringing care to the patient, not having to run around searching for equipment,” Longmore said. Thus staff can find anything from a thermometer on up in the same place from floor to floor and room to room.

Each floor also offers a “peace room,” which Longmore likens to “the quiet car on a train.” In addition to being a space where visitors or patients can be alone with their thoughts and undistracted from conversations in the other public waiting rooms, each peace room includes a massage chair.

A new approach to emergency room services is also readily apparent. Emergency staff sees 25,000 patients per year in 29 treatment spaces; that is being expanded to 50 treatment spaces, with eight specifically designed for pediatric emergencies and four special rooms for patients with behavioral health problems. The latter, featuring soft furniture and special tamper-proof hardware on doors, are sufficiently separate from the other emergency rooms to provide further privacy and security, Longmore said.

A nautical theme permeates the pediatric space, from a large fish tank to wall artwork to the cartoon marine creatures on the equipment cart exteriors. “It’s a little easier for them to see that than to wheel in a big tray covered with needles and other instruments,” Longmore said.

Staff input was key to the new facility’s design, in accordance with Planetree. Smeriglio noted that he oversaw the construction of model patient, operating and other representative rooms in a nearby warehouse space — “Not just areas designated by tape on the floors, but actual rooms, though without running water.”

Relevant staff were then invited to tour those rooms and offer feedback. After changes were implemented — electrical outlets were too low for the constant bending over needed to plug in and unplug equipment, for example — the staff was brought back to review “to see if it made the grade. We had buses going back and forth constantly for about three months,” he said.

Work is still being done on the integrated care pavilion, which allows doctors and surgeons to see patients in an office setting; a bridge connects that building to the hospital for further convenience. Smeriglio said construction is expected to be completed by the beginning of December.

The entire hospital is symbolically linked by a “glyph,” which appears on most signage, stationery, business cards and the like. The glyph features a soft swoosh to denote “high-touch,” opposite a sharper-edged swoosh for “high-tech,” surrounding a central dot representing the patient. Each floor’s nursing station is roughly patterned the same way, with each desk arrayed in an arc around a central area designated for staff consultations; a high wall around that area serves to further dampen sound. The actual building is also curved to reflect the glyph pattern.

LED lights are featured in many areas, allowing for adjustments in brightness and color in the operating rooms, where green light is especially effective in reducing shadows and is routinely used for such procedures as laparoscopic operations.

Stamford Hospital’s new exterior sign consists of seven-foot tall LED lights that are also adjustable; for breast cancer awareness month in October, for example, the sign will be pink.

As for what will become of the still standing old hospital, Longmore said that some office space will be retained; decisions on what to do with patient rooms and other now-vacated areas are expected to be determined soon.

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