Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 42
 
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
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New Medical Center in Plainsboro Will Feature Purposeful Design

Dilshanie Perera

After enumerating the dismaying list of problems (terrorist threats, anti-Americanism at an all-time high, the economic crisis, just for starters) that await the country’s next President — be it Senator Obama or Senator McCain — when he assumes office in January, foreign policy expert Nancy Soderberg assured an audience at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs last week that “it’s all solvable.”

The new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro (UMCPP) recently broke ground for its new building, which is slated to open in 2011. The new hospital is 2.5 miles away from its current location in Princeton, and will be located on Route One between Scudders Mill Road and Plainsboro Road.

President and CEO of the Princeton HealthCare System Barry Rabner noted that discussions about the new hospital emerged out of a strategic plan five years ago, for which input was sought from physicians, elected officials, and the public. They discovered that they had to build a hospital, and after much deliberation, decided on relocating to a new site, Mr. Rabner acknowledged.

Having narrowed the field down to 18 different potential locations for the new hospital, Mr. Rabner and others spent a year evaluating the various sites before deciding on the one in Plainsboro. Describing the 150-acre plot of land as “at first a concern for us,” because the hospital was thought to only need 50 acres, Mr. Rabner said “as we studied it, we realized it created a terrific opportunity for a healthcare village.”

“We started thinking about where the synergies lie, and where the demand exists, and from that grew the concept of the healthcare village,” explained Mr. Rabner. The community of medical establishments at that site will include the hospital, a long-term care facility, medical offices, a fitness and wellness center, an education center, a pediatric unit, and other amenities.

The medical center “will be among the most comprehensive in the country, and we have the rare opportunity to build on a green field, so services that ought to be close to each other can be, and we can be more efficient,” envisioned Mr. Rabner.

The purposefully designed space will make overall operation smoother, according to Mr. Rabner, who said that they “established a series of guiding principles — to design a building that would reduce errors and infection, enhance privacy, improve operating efficiency, and improve clinical outcomes - in every decision we made, we had to satisfy one or more of those guiding principles.”

Project Manager Phil Toussaint, who is the associate principal at RMJM Hillier, described some of the amenities of the new hospital building, which features green design and state-of-the-art capabilities. “The building is oriented to take advantage of natural light, since it improves recovery time,” he said, adding that the “large, energy-efficient south wall directs sunlight and blocks heat gain.”

“Wayfinding” through the hospital should be much improved, and “very obvious,” according to Mr. Toussaint, who elaborated upon specific “portals of care” targeted toward patient needs. “It’s going to be a much more personalized service,” he said.

“The natural setting is extraordinary,” said Mr. Toussaint. The hospital will be located along the Millstone River, and will feature natural landscaping and indigenous plant species.

As for the inside of the space, patient safety and privacy are highlighted, with 238 private rooms, and 100 percent energy-efficient fresh air circulation in “critical clinical areas” to reduce infection, reported Mr. Toussaint.

Patient rooms will be “same-handed,” meaning that they all will face the same direction in order to reduce staff errors, and allow beds to be placed along the same wall as the bathroom, so patients never need to let go of a handrail to access the toilet, thereby reducing patient falls, said Mr. Toussaint.

Mr. Rabner also elaborated upon the technological amenities of the new space. Operating theaters will be designed to accommodate robotics, and the systems in the rooms will be voice-controlled so that surgeons can verbally request data, and change temperature and lighting.

“When an employee enters a patient’s room, their ID badge is a transducer, so their picture and a brief bio will be projected onto a screen by way of introduction,” Mr. Rabner said, adding that “the lights over the sink by the door will flash to remind them to wash their hands,” which will also reduce human error and prevent the transmission of infections.

“The medical records will all be electronic, and the images will be digital so that results can be quickly communicated to the physician who ordered it,” Mr. Rabner remarked, “Or, the data can be called up on a screen in a patient’s room, and if there’s an expert somewhere else in the country, we can send it over for them to look at it.”

Regarding demand for services, Mr. Rabner said that the new location is closer to 70 percent of the people that the current hospital serves, and that the new hospital will focus on “those services that we could do as well as or better than anyone else” in the region. For example, “the orthopedic program and the maternity program are in the top five percent of those in the US, but we don’t do transplants, burns, or trauma since others do, and do it well,” he said, noting that the goal is to always connect patients with the care they need in a safe and efficient manner.

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