Hyatt Regency of hospitals


When the new $121 million Veterans Affairs Medical Center i dedicated Sunday in the midst of the downtown University of Maryland complex, Baltimoreans will have a first-hand opportunity to see the very latest in hospital design.

Gone are the antiseptic colors and feeling of a traditional hospital. Instead, the new 324-bed acute medical and surgical care facility resembles a Hyatt Regency hotel.

It has two flower-filled atriums soaring six floors to glass skylights and a tropical garden that seemingly has everything except marimba music, peacocks and ostriches. Each of the color-coordinated patient rooms has a view of the city or the atriums. "This warm environment will help improve the patients' healing process by increasing their comfort and making them feel more at home," says a publicity handout.

The new VA Medical Center -- which will become fully operational Jan. 24 -- is the first full introduction locally of the biggest fad in health care: patient-friendly hospital design. That this indeed is the fashion can be seen just a block away at Greene and Lombard streets, where the University of Maryland Medical Systems is constructing an $84 million clinical tower with many similar trendy features.

An overhead bridge connects the VA Medical Center to the University of Maryland health-care facility. It evidences the close operational links that have long existed between the two hospitals. Not only do the two institutions often share staff members but some 750 university students, interns and residents work at the VA hospital. When the veterans' center now prepares to move downtown from its Loch Raven Boulevard site, that cooperation will become even more intense.

The new VA Medical Center will serve an estimated 25,000 veterans a year with more than 9,000 inpatient admissions and 240,000 outpatient visits. It will offer some of the most advanced treatment and diagnostic technology available anywhere in America, including a pioneering filmless radiology program. As the newest of the nation's 171 VA medical centers, the Baltimore facility truly sparkles.

We welcome the VA Medical Center and its 1,100 employees to their new downtown home. Their hospital will be an important addition to the University Center neighborhood of academic and medical institutions, which is changing the face of the area between Oriole Park and Lexington Market, instilling new life into it.

Amid much recent gloomy news, the opening of the VA Medical Center is one event Baltimore City can cheer.

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