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Hospitals see "warm and fuzzy" treatment for patients, families as a better path to healing
By Harry Hitzeman | Daily Herald Staff

"Cookie Ladies" Sharri Wojcik, left, of Batavia and Jan Soltys of Elgin deliver warm treats to patients and their families at Delnor-Community Hospital in Geneva. The hospital is working to adopt a more patient-centered, less institutional approach.


Rick West | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/3/2007 7:02 AM

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At Delnor-Community Hospital in Geneva, health care is more than medicine, X-rays and antibiotics.

On any given day, volunteers help with aroma-therapy: baking chocolate chip cookies for patients, visitors and family caregivers.

Stairwells have been painted with soothing murals, as have some operating room suites.

Along hallways, patients and families can drop by a computer kiosk, log on and send out an e-mail on the latest test results.

Music from a piano trickles through the main atrium, and maybe today's the day for the harp therapist to play.

If family members or Delnor-Community employees are in a pinch, they can have the hospital's concierge service, Errand Solutions, arrange for a flower delivery, dinner reservation or even set up an oil change.

People can see their loved ones at any time, not just during prescribed "visiting hours."

There's so many things that do help us heal," said Diane Ball, Delnor Planetree coordinator and registered nurse.

Delnor's model is a departure from the antiseptic, cold and institutionalized vision that is associated with hospitals of old.

Across the suburbs and nation, as more hospitals strive for more "patient-centered" care, Delnor is following a roadmap from one of the oldest groups in the business.

Shift in culture

Two years ago, Delnor joined Planetree, a Connecticut-based group that provided one of the first models for patient-centered care.

At the heart of Planetree -- the name of the tree that Hippocrates sat under to teach the first medical students in ancient Greece -- is providing nurturing care and human interaction in a holistic, healing environment.

The move is a paradigm shift in health care, which traditionally has been provided in a regimented, industrial style such as doctors issuing orders and firm visiting hours.

Since a key Institute of Medicine report in early 2000, hundreds of other hospitals have developed their own plans to become more patient centered.

Planetree, which was founded in 1978 and had its first affiliate in 1985, is just one formalized way to do it.

"You create a better and more healing experience for the patients you serve," said Planetree President Susan Frampton in a phone interview. "(The approach is) let's not forget about the patient at the center of this whole equation and their needs."

She added the approach could become more important as baby boomers age.

"The baby boomer generation expectations are much higher. We've grown up in a convenience culture. We expect to be treated with respect. We expect to be consulted for our opinion," Frampton said.

Planetree and other patient-centered models have taken time to catch on because hospital officials want to see tangible results, one of them being increases in patient satisfaction scores.

Stephen Schoenbaum, executive vice president for programs for the New York-based Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that advocates for better heath care, noted the Planetree model is decades old.

"Just durability alone means there's something about (Planetree) that works. It's very easy for (doctors) to think about the health care system from our own perspective rather than from the eyes of patients," he said.

Quality care

If hospital visits came with frequent flier miles, Elizabeth Smith and her family might be on their way to Hawaii.

The Batavia mother of three has had several visits to Geneva's Delnor-Community and experienced its care from several perspectives:

• from a mom's point of view, when two of her three kids broke their arms and landed in the emergency room;

• from a caregiver's role, supporting one of her friends who was hospitalized after back surgery;

• and from a patient's view when she had outpatient surgery.

Throughout each visit, she noticed warm and homelike surroundings and personal attention doctors and nurses give to patients, caregivers and their families.

If you gave Smith a choice, she wouldn't go anywhere else.

"I can't imagine a better experience for a patient," she said. "They not only care about the patient and give you full attention, they also care about the caretaker."

Delnor officials recently launched a "care partner" program in which a friend or loved one goes through the entire process with the patient.

"The care partner is an extra set of eyes and ears," said Kathy Domalick, Delnor director of oncology program development. "Being in a hospital can be a scary place to be. You feel very vulnerable and alone at times. It allows you to have someone who you trust to share the experience."

To folks outside the medical community, the Planetree model may seem too warm and fuzzy.

Rick Wade, senior vice president of the Chicago-based American Hospital Association, says there's no such thing.

"If you're sick, you want all the warm and fuzzy you can get," he said. "They're all designed to make the frightening and stressful experience of a hospital encounter easier for patients and their families."

But the most important thing is human interaction.

Doctors and nurses learn names, explain options and procedures and give information to family members who care for the patient after the trip home.

Planetree also recommends interior design that is conductive to healing.

Delnor officials have incorporated these principles in existing rooms and in the design of their 64-bed, 100,000-square-foot, $50 million expansion slated for completion next summer.

When done, it will bring the hospital's capacity to 159 beds, all in individual, private rooms instead of double occupancy.

Each of the new 310- to 320-square-foot rooms will have 32-inch flat-screen TVs and large windows for natural light.

Couches easily fold out into beds so someone can sleep overnight, and each floor has a lounge where families can unwind.

A huge skylight centered around the main nurse's station opens the area up for patients and staff alike.

"It's more than a building. We're developing people and giving compassionate care," said Ball, the Delnor Planetree coordinator. "Planetree is all about keeping it in front of us that we're people taking care of people."

Catching on

What may seem like the right, natural and practical thing for doctors and nurses to do has taken time to catch on.

"If you're going to be committed to the Planetree model, it's an enormous undertaking," said the American Hospital Association's Wade.

Employees must be sent to training seminars, initiatives cost money and results take time.

Planetree was founded by a patient named Angelica Thieriot, who was appalled by the lack of personalized care during a hospitalization.

Planetree's Frampton said some hospitals needed to see rises in patient and employee satisfaction before buying in.

Patient satisfaction can help boost market share, and better employee satisfaction can mean higher retention levels, better job candidates and more productivity.

Delnor paid $45,000 each year to Planetree for the first two years, said Delnor spokeswoman Lynne Casey.

The fee includes education, onsite consultation and networking opportunities. This year the fee is about $32,000 before dropping to $18,000 in the hospital's sixth year with Planetree.

Three other hospitals and medical groups in Illinois are Planetree affiliates: Swedish Covenant Hospital on Chicago's Northwest Side, Elmhurst Memorial Health Care and Galena's Stauss Hospital and Healthcare Center.

Since Delnor joined in 2005, in-patient satisfaction scores have been in the top 96 percent when compared to 1,000 other hospitals with 100 or more beds, Delnor officials said.

Swedish Covenant signed on with Planetree in August 2004, making it the longest-running affiliate in Illinois.

For the first quarter of 2005, 81.6 percent of people surveyed by an outside firm for inpatient procedures reported their quality of care being "very good" or "excellent."

By the second quarter of this year, that number had increased to 84.7 percent, Swedish Covenant spokesman Tim Nelson said.

"If the patient is comfortable, they'll heal faster and they'll be happier. If the patient is happier, it's easier to take care of them," he said. "You really want people to feel like they're being treated as a person, not a number."

Joanne Muzzey, a registered nurse and Planetree program director with Elmhurst Memorial, said group started Planetree just this past January.

Staff members have completed an evaluation, formed committees and are being sent off for training.

By 2010, Elmhurst Memorial officials hope to open a new $350 million, 325-bed facility on 27 acres at York and Roosevelt roads. Also by then, staff members hope to be Planetree-certified.

"It's holistic patient-centered care, which also provides care for the caregiver," Muzzey said. "We wanted our staff to be already comfortable in the philosophy for when we move."