During her pregnancy, Betsy Chupeek would drive 160 miles round trip from her Easton, Md., home to Prince George's Hospital Center for monthly checkups, making the trip once a week as the birth of her baby neared.
Although there were plenty of doctors where she now lives, Chupeek, who grew up in Bowie, never considered having her baby at any hospital other than the one in Cheverly, just off Route 202.
"I know it's a long trip but it was my first baby and I was petrified," Chupeek, 24, said in a recent interview with 4-month-old Hank at her side. "Only at this hospital did I feel safe and secure."
In the last few years, Prince George's has spent millions on renovations and new specialized services in an attempt to garner such loyalty.
The changes, which include a new obstetrical wing and lush patient rooms where gourmet meals are served, are part of an aggressive marketing campaign to attract patients who can afford extra amenities to help offset the soaring cost of caring for indigent patients.
The hospital has the highest indigent patient population of any in the county and provides about $55,000 a day in medical care at no charge, according to Allan Atzrott, chief executive officer at the hospital, which four years ago dropped the name Prince George's General.
"No matter who comes through the door, no matter what their ability to pay is, we'll treat them," Atzrott said.
The changes at Prince George's, a major regional trauma center renowned for its teaching and surgical staff, also are an attempt to shed any negative image the hospital has gained as primary caretaker to the hundreds of victims of the county's drug-related violence. Since the beginning of the year, more than 300 people have entered the emergency rooms of Prince George's with gunshot or stab wounds.
"Prince George's has to be so many things to so many people," said Rick Wade, vice president of communications for the Maryland Hospital Association. ". . . It has a hard job."
The recent innovations include the remodeling of the Tower E units on the seventh and eighth floors, which now resemble deluxe hotel rooms. Hospital officials are targeting the luxury suites at patients who are accustomed to a certain lifestyle and want to ease the stress of their medical stay. In the private and semi-private rooms, Impressionist-style paintings decorate walls papered in pale peach and beige. Patients are greeted each morning with a newspaper, juice and fresh flowers and may order meals from a special gourmet menu.
The showcase of the Tower E rooms is the Annapolis Room, which is decorated in shades of green and has a breakfast nook.
Part of the room has been converted into a sitting area with a loveseat and a cherrywood armoire and desk.
A stay in the luxury rooms costs from $10 to $25 a day more than in a standard semi-private room.
"There has to be a lot more consumer choices because employers are structuring their benefits packages as such," Wade said.
One innovation that officials hope will result in patient loyalty is the hospital's state-of-the-art obstetrical and gynecology wing. Prince George's spent $3.3 million converting the wing into 10 bedroom-like "birthing" rooms that combine the once-separate rooms of labor, delivery and recovery. Midwives, nurses and doctors work together in rooms decorated in mauve wallpaper and ruffled curtains. A fetal monitor and other technological equipment sit in a corner next to a rocking chair.
"This was done to give the mothers the birthing option that has now become the norm, an atmosphere closely resembling their own home," said Sheila Cavender, manager of the wing.
The hospital also offers a monthly tea and tour of the wing for potential patients.
The hospital's location next to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway makes it the likely place for victims of traffic accidents. According to Park Police, more than 821 accidents have occurred on the parkway since January, and many of the victims arrive at the hospital by helicopter.
To prepare for its increasingly larger role in the county's drug battle, Prince George's has spent more than $1 million to revamp the emergency room, installing a new waiting room three times the size of the former one.
"Trauma is the worst disease and kills more people under 40 than anything else," said Willie Blair, a surgeon and former director of the hospital trauma unit.
Among the other innovations: A service was established for minor emergencies and the hospital also has begun an emergency psychiatric services unit with six rooms for observation and treatment.
Prince George's parent company, Dimensions Health Corp., which also owns Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital and Bowie Hospital Center, recently announced it will build a 40-bed adolescent substance abuse treatment center on the hospital grounds.
"A lot of folks in this community believe we're just an average hospital but we want to show we're more," Atzrott said.