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Johns Hopkins unveils new hospital

At the new $1.1 billion Johns Hopkins Hospital there will be Xboxes and a basketball court for kids, sleeper-sofas for families, single rooms for all patients, an improved dining menu and extensive soundproofing.

It's part of an effort to make the hospital experience more patient-focused, Hopkins officials said Thursday on the first tour given to the news media since construction began five years ago on the 1.6 million-square-foot building, which will replace aging facilities on the East Baltimore medical campus.

The hospital also is building imaging machines into the operating rooms, employing a cellphone-based system to alert nurses to patient emergencies, and rolling out other state-of-the-art upgrades to improve patient treatment and safety. Officials inside and outside the hospital say such changes aren't just nice to have but necessary to compete locally and with other top-tier hospitals around the country.

"This is not something that's done casually," Ronald R. Peterson, executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said about the massive facility, which will open during a time when payments from Medicaid, Medicare and other programs are threatened. "But even at a place like Hopkins that has the reputation we enjoy, those in charge came to realize that we were well behind and needed to catch up."

Health care is a dominant industry in Maryland, responsible for about 11 percent of all jobs in the state, and it is growing, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Hopkins joins Mercy Medical Center, the University of Maryland Medical Center and other area hospitals in replacing buildings and adding the most modern equipment and amenities to lure patients, keep doctors and expand business.

Hopkins' new hospital, a pair of 12-story towers for adults and children, is scheduled to open April 29 and will replace buildings constructed in the 1930s and 1950s. Next door to the existing main hospital facing Wolfe Street, the new hospital, facing Orleans Street, will offer 560 private rooms, 33 operating rooms and new adult and children's emergency rooms.

Peterson said the decision was made to replace the older buildings nearly a dozen years ago, well before the hint of a recession that likely would have given the board of trustees pause.

The federal budget deficit means cuts are possible to Medicare and Medicaid, which make up close to half of the revenue from patients to Hopkins and many other hospitals. Hopkins also serves some Department of Defense patients.

That can have an effect on repayment of bonds used to pay for construction, Peterson said. Hopkins borrowed $400 million for the new facility and raised about $325 million from private philanthropic sources, including Saudi royalty and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It also received $100 million from the state.

Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes the hospital, medical school and affiliated hospitals and health care facilities, has an overall budget of $6.5 billion and 30,000 workers and is the largest employer in Baltimore. About 700 new jobs will be created in the new complex.

Throughout the tour Thursday, doctors pointed to innovations that they said would improve safety and efficiency. Dr. Kenneth Cohen, clinical director of pediatric oncology, said he didn't know if it all will help Hopkins cure more cancer, but it will "make the experience a little less stressful."

Peterson said the new facilities are needed to accommodate equipment not envisioned decades ago. They also offer patient rooms that control infection better and allow for privacy.

That is important to parents such as Robert Hicks Jr. of Owings Mills, whose infant son was treated at Hopkins five years ago for potentially deadly fluid in his lungs. Hicks said he didn't want to leave the room to get food, sleep or shower, so when officials asked what they could include in the new hospital, he told them.

"This isn't about me or about Robert III, it's about the next family and the next Robert," he said. "You shouldn't have [to worry] about leaving your child to go get something to eat. You need to be there to listen to them breathe, hear them cry."

And while the patient rooms will include sofa beds, on-demand dining and showers, as well as laundry and kitchenettes nearby, the facility will not include a dedicated "over-the-top" wing for VIPs, said Hopkins' Peterson.

Other prestigious hospitals around the country have created a lucrative business by serving patients who can afford to pay extra for luxurious, hotel-like accommodations — new mother Beyonce, for example. Hopkins will continue to serve VIP patients in its Marburg Pavilion, which offers extras such as two-room suites, fine furniture and baths, entertainment centers, expanded dining menus and overnight accommodations for family.

Other area hospitals recently finished their own upgrades to offer patients and personnel better and safer experiences, including Mercy. It recently opened its $400 million, 20-story downtown hospital that includes private rooms with flat-screen televisions and sleeper-sofas for family, state-of-the-art operating rooms, public gardens and a chapel.

The University of Maryland Medical Center plans a nine-level addition to its Shock Trauma Center to accommodate higher demand for trauma, emergency and critical care services. The current building dates to 1989 and was intended to accommodate 3,500 patients annually, but now serves more than 8,000.

Sinai Hospital is building a $29.5 million addition to its children's hospital because it also needs more space. Upgrades and expansions also are planned, under way or completed at St. Agnes Hospital, Franklin Square, Northwest Hospital and Maryland General.

"I think the key point on all of this is that the state has approved these improvements and/or new construction to meet the demands of modern health care," said Jim Reiter, a spokesman for the Maryland Hospital Association.

"Many facilities were built decades ago, when technology and health care protocols were far different; getting people the right care, at the right time and in the right place, sometimes requires a new or improved place," he said. "And with the baby boomers aging and becoming sicker, hospitals today have to be ready not just to meet today's demands, but those of the future as well."

Many projects were in the works long before the recession, which has tamped down the level of new construction, said Richard Gianello of HFS Consultants, which offers financial services to hospitals.

He said the Hopkins project is among the largest he's heard about nationwide, but many other hospitals have decided that they need new facilities. Like Hopkins, most use a mix of philanthropy, debt and cash to pay for them.

In addition to making services more marketable to patients and doctors, who have rising expectations, hospitals can cut energy and staff costs with new, efficient buildings.

But some hospital administrators who haven't started construction are putting it off, waiting to see what happens with the court challenge to federal health care reform and with federal and state budgets, which can affect the amount they get paid.

Health care reform, Gianello said, could increase the number of paying customers, compared to the amount of charity care hospitals provide. But federal and state budget cuts could slash payments from programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

"For some hospitals, that may tip the scale," he said. "It takes two to three years to get something built, so they may be waiting. Though one positive thing right now is interest rates are the lowest they've ever been. If they are going to do it, now is a good time."

Hospital highlights

The new $1.1 billion Johns Hopkins Hospital at 1800 Orleans St. in East Baltimore will include:

•1.6 million square feet of space, with two connected 12-story towers

•560 private patient rooms with sleeper sofas, full bathrooms and Internet access

•33 operating rooms, with imaging capabilities

•Adult and children's emergency rooms that are more than three times the size of existing emergency departments, able to accommodate 110,000 annual visits

•The children's center will be named for Charlotte R. Bloomberg, mother of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and the adult center will be named for Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, first president of the United Arab Emirates