Newly built hospital more like a hotel’

There’s no admitting department

It sounds almost too good to be true: a brand-new hospital that looks like an upscale hotel, with employees who are there because they’re committed to provide not just customer service, but compassionate service.

From all reports, however, that is the reality at Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury, MN, a community hospital that is a collaboration of Health East Care System and Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, both in Minneapolis.

"About five years ago, we decided to build a community hospital with a vision of being the innovative and preferred resource by creating an experience that has not been done before," says Woodwinds’ chief executive officer Julie Schmidt, RN, MBA. In her case, she says, "CEO" stands for "customer expectations officer."

There is no admissions department at Woodwinds, which opened in August 2000, but rather a "fairly unique admitting process" whereby patients go directly to the point of service, whether preregistered or not, says Cara Hull, executive lead of systems and process integration. The closest thing to an admitting office, Hull adds, is the one occupied by a single admitting coordinator.

Scheduling made simple

Patients are scheduled by a centralized staff — using Pathways Healthcare Scheduling, a product of Atlanta-based HBOC — that handles the function for all the sites that fall under the Health East umbrella and is reachable through one central telephone number, she explains. Bookings are created and sent to a Health East centralized preregistration staff, which calls patients to obtain or confirm demographic and insurance information, Hull adds.

"Once those patients arrive, they go directly to the point of service, whether radiology or a patient floor," she says. "There are still some pieces that need to be completed — forms signed and [a computer entry] that the patient is here — and that can happen in a couple of ways."

Information coordinators, located in every department and on every patient floor, can take care of those details at their desks or in the patient’s room, using wireless laptop computers, Hull adds.

The admitting coordinator typically handles direct admissions, in which the entire registration process must be done after the patient arrives, she says. "She either does it in her office in the front of the hospital near the main entrance, goes to the department or patient room, or [takes the information] over the phone."

If the patient makes it to radiology without being registered, for example, there is a telephone alcove where he or she can sit and call the admitting coordinator, who is reachable by wireless phone, Hull notes. Volunteers are available, she points out, who don’t just direct patients down the hall, but personally escort them. "That doesn’t always happen, but we try."

The practice is part of the philosophy of customer service — "Compassionate Service at Woodwinds" — created specifically for the hospital, Hull explains. "There are specific behaviors: greeting the patient, looking up from what you’re doing, making the patient feel he or she is the most important person."

Woodwinds is so serious about hiring employees who fit its purpose that it uses a behavioral assessment tool purchased from the University of Chicago Hospitals to screen applicants, says Schmidt.

"We try to create compassionate service by hiring the right employees and supporting them through the process," she explains. "They get a letter from me, stating the expectations, and they sign a "Compassionate Service Agreement."

Despite a pay scale that is "at market rate" and an unemployment rate in the area of less than 2%, Woodwinds had some 3,000 applicants for 400 jobs, Schmidt notes. "Some people were interested because we were close to home, but the majority wanted to work here because of the vision. We tried to let folks in the community know what kind of organization we’re trying to create. There was excitement at being part of that new approach to providing care."

Woodwinds not only has a different feel than the average hospital, it has a very different look, she says. There is a two-story "town center" that connects the medical office building with the hospital. It features a grand piano, aquariums, a cafe, a retail shop, lounges, and five fireplaces and looks more like a hotel than a hospital, Schmidt says. All the patient rooms are single occupancy, with sleeping space in every room for family members.

Even with such amenities, she adds, construction costs per square foot for the facility are in the lower quartile of building costs throughout the country. "Sometimes, remodeling is more expensive than getting there in the first place," Schmidt notes.

Easy way finding’

Because Woodwinds is situated on about 30 acres, parking is not a challenge, she says, and access to the building is pleasant and convenient. "When you arrive, there is a beautiful open area, with choices of where to sit."

There are no labyrinths or dark basements at Woodwinds, Hull says. "There is a main glass corridor that runs the length of the building. It’s a two-story space, and you can see below. Whether you’re going to radiology, cardiopulmonary, the lab, or surgery, you walk down one main hallway. It’s like a street, with a sign at each corner telling where you are."

Easy "way finding," as it is called, was part of the building’s design, she adds. "Our lowest level is the walk-out level, so there is no basement. You don’t lose your sense of direction."