Susan Thomas would rather have been home with her cat, but the Bensenville resident instead was at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital for about a month recently, recovering from a bout of pancreatitis.
But Thomas, who has since gone home, said her experience at the hospital's new main campus wasn't like a traditional hospital stay.
The new hospital, which opened June 25 on Brush Hill Road, features 259 private suites, trickling waterfalls, 14 outdoor gardens and even a Starbucks.
"The hospital is beautiful," said Thomas, 44. "It doesn't have that institutional feeling. The colors on the walls are warm, and there is a lot of natural light coming in through my window."
Though the hospital — sometimes called the "hospital in the garden" by staff — may have that posh, refreshing look, officials say it incorporates a larger mission, one that includes comforts that aren't always visible to the naked eye.
The hospital is a member of Planetree, a nonprofit organization that promotes patient-centered health care in soothing environments in several medical facilities in Illinois and elsewhere in the country. Planetree officials say they also work to educate member hospitals to focus on the whole person: body, mind and spirit.
Other hospitals not affiliated with Planetree have adopted similar approaches.
"The body and mind are connected and are a huge part of the healing process," said Joanne Muzzey, director of patient advocacy and Planetree programs at Elmhurst Hospital. "We try to identify what is important to the patient. If there is some type of religious component, we work hard to meet that, while for some it may not be a part of their healing process."
Muzzey said staff members might help with guided meditation or relaxation techniques or even provide a hand massage.
Planetree also advocates for keeping patients informed about their progress, including reviewing medical records with them or explaining in detail why they must undergo a certain procedure.
The program at Elmhurst, launched in 2006, also gives patients more choices. The hospital, for example, doesn't have standard visiting hours. Visitors may come at any time, as long as the patient agrees to it.
The hospital also has sleeping areas for visitors and pull-out beds in the patients' rooms.
Connecticut-based Planetree was founded in 1978 by Angelica Thieriot. She was battling a rare viral infection at the time and felt alone and afraid while staring at the blank walls of her hospital room. Thieriot felt the staff didn't treat her as an individual and were hurrying in and out.
The experience led her to envision a different type of hospital with a healing environment that would give patients access to their own medical information. Thieriot named the organization Planetree, after the type of tree that Hippocrates sat under as he taught some of the earliest medical students in ancient Greece.
The organization has developed 10 components that hospitals incorporate into their environments.
Among them are "independence, dignity and choice," "meaningful activities and entertainment," "spirituality and diversity" and "importance of human touch."
Planetree President Susan Frampton believes many hospitals still have an institutional feel.
"We have seen a huge amount of advancement in technology, but some of the simple things, such as creating a personalized and compassionate experience for patients, are still lacking," she said.
To be Planetree members, medical centers pay annual fees ranging from $5,000 to $45,000, depending on their size, Frampton said. Planetree requires each institution to designate a patient care coordinator for the program.
Besides Elmhurst, Illinois members of Planetree include Delnor-Community Hospital in Geneva, Proctor Hospital in Peoria and most public veterans hospitals and clinics.
Officials at some other hospitals, such as the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, say they have developed similar philosophies to create an environment conducive to patient comfort and healing.
"I think most hospitals strive to do that," said Loyola spokesman Jim Ritter, who added that Loyola used design elements that have been proved to be beneficial in clinical studies at a new clinic that recently opened in Burr Ridge.
"We incorporated more natural lighting in the building," said Ritter. "It has panoramic views of the outdoor ponds. The walls all have earth-tone colors for a more soothing environment."
Jojy Schless, a Planetree specialist at Delnor, which joined the program in 2004, said the hospital incorporates similar patient-based care and also focuses on the well-being of the hospital staff.
She said the hospital painted murals in the stairwells to encourage employees to take the stairs instead of the elevator. There are also murals in some surgical rooms.
"A simple thing like that will give a certain positive energy to hospital staff, which, in turn, patients will pick up," said Schless.
The Delnor maternity ward recently started a nap time for patients from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Schless said the hospital thought it would be a good idea because studies show that patients complain about noise at hospitals.
"We turn down the lights, and a sense of calm comes over the area," she said. "Even the nurses and staff feel recharged."
The staff often uses the time to catch up on paperwork.
"The whole idea is simple," she said. "We're trying to bring healing back to health care."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun