Patients entering the new Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington are greeted not by an admitting desk but by a "concierge" staffed with "patient reps."
Here, the walls are adorned with evocative, commissioned works of art, and a glassed-in atrium features real grass and rushes with the sound of an 80-foot-long waterfall. Even the all-private patient rooms are furnished with hotel-style amenities, appointed with daybeds and upholstered in stripes and faux suede fabrics.
This is a hospital. Or is it?
Planners worked for five years, focusing primarily on patient comfort, to make the $150 million hospital feel more inviting than institutional. If they succeeded, officials expect to attract countless new patients -- many of them people who would prefer not be reminded that they are in a hospital -- and doctors and specialists who can help increase the hospital's presence in the Washington region.
Today, officials will cut the blue ribbon, welcoming the public inside the facility that was built to replace the 31-year-old building next door on North George Mason Drive. Current patients will be the first to take occupancy, on Thursday. New patients will be admitted Nov. 1.
"This is the best modern medicine has to offer," said John Garrett, chairman of the hospital's board of directors and chief of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery. "It was designed around what's best for patients."
Garrett spoke enthusiastically with visitors this week about even the smallest touches included in the facility's design and operation.
Once the facility officially opens, patients will check in with the concierge and be escorted to their rooms, where they will complete paperwork in privacy. Here, there are no "wings" or obtuse floor designations. Just like at a hotel, patients will be assigned room numbers and request meals through "room service."
Some of the new features, such as the concierge desk, are not innovations but part of trends being incorporated into the design of the most contemporary hospitals.
Gone, Virginia Hospital Center officials say, are the days when hospital visitors will ride in elevators with patients on gurneys. Planners designed separate elevators for the task of moving patients.
The new hospital is also designed to allow patients, visitors and doctors to use cell phones and handheld personal digital assistants without interfering with sensitive medical instruments. Even the X-rays have gone digital, eliminating the need for film and allowing doctors to summon patient information from almost any computer in the hospital.
Want coffee? Try the Starbucks counter in the main lobby.
What about cost? Officials say the charge for private rooms will be equal to what patients pay for semiprivate rooms in the older facility.
Officials said every decision about the new building was made with the patient in mind -- even the creation of an underground parking garage to avoid unnecessary steps.
"We're trying to relieve the anxiety of patients and visitors," said hospital spokeswoman Erin Curtin, standing in the main lobby's vast, glassed-in expanse. "It's about soothing tones and natural light and fostering a sense of health and wellness."
Sounds more like a day spa than a hospital, doesn't it?
But move past the funky halogen track lighting, contemporary architectural flourishes and the 630 pieces of artwork purchased for the building and doctors will tell you that the hospital's strength is in its state-of-the art medical technology.
The hospital boasts an emergency department that is 60 percent larger than its predecessor, accommodating as many as 75 percent more patients; a radiology and diagnostic imaging department that has doubled in size; and an operating room specifically designated for neurosurgery, a feature officials say is unique to the region.
The hospital's emergency response capability also has been upgraded with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in mind, equipped with hazmat decontamination showers and negative-pressure rooms.
Officials plan to renovate the old hospital building to centralize some existing services. Beginning Nov. 1, the hospital's main entrance will be converted into the welcome area for the newly created Women and Infant Health Pavilion.
The old emergency department will be used for outpatient oncology. The building also will house a 20-bed inpatient rehabilitation clinic, and later this year the hospital's administrative and business offices will move in.