Sacred Heart Hospital Embraces Patient-Centered Philosophy of Care

By Colin McEvoy on February 17, 2015

A panoramic view of the newly-renovated patient floor at Sacred Heart Hospital.

A panoramic view of Five Tower, the newly-renovated patient floor at Sacred Heart Hospital that encompasses a new patient-centered philosophy of care.

Imagine a room with comfortable beds, warm colors and textures, and artwork adorning the walls. Step outside and you find multiple amenities, including lounge space, small meeting areas and a small kitchen.

It sounds like a hotel, but it’s not: it’s the newly-renovated patient floor at Sacred Heart Hospital.

This article is part of an ongoing series about the superior health care offered in the Lehigh Valley. See below for information about the other stories:

PART 1: St. Luke’s University Health Network
• PART 2: Lehigh Valley Health Network
PART 3: Sacred Heart Hospital
PART 4: Easton Hospital
• PART 5: Coordinated Health

The Allentown hospital has completed $4.5 million in renovations to its Five Tower, a medical surgery patient floor that encompasses a new patient-centered philosophy of care. The concept seeks to create an entirely different experience for the patient, with a strong focus on staff engagement, family involvement and compassionate interactions.

“You’re trying to take some of the fear and intimidation out of patient care,” said John Nespoli, Sacred Heart president and CEO. “Obviously a hospital can be a scary place, but there is an emotional and psychological component to healing, and the environment does matter. It’s a great concept, and a perfect fit for a family-oriented hospital like Sacred Heart.”

The newly-renovated fifth floor includes 18 rooms, all of which are singles for maximum privacy and comfort. They include beds and accommodations for family members to stay in the room overnight, which are designed to feel more like a home than a hospital. This has the added advantage of making families more involved in the recovery, encouraging a partnership of care that will make them better equipped to help the patient when he or she returns home.

In addition to the amenities provided, the patient floor includes nursing and physician workstations throughout the unit, rather than in a separate section of the floor far from the patients. Nespoli said this layout ensures the patients do not feel isolated from their caretakers and always feel connected to the staff. Additionally, case managers and social workers are on the same floor so they can help prepare the patient for discharge, which is more convenient than when they are in a completely different part of the hospital.

“It’s just very different from a typical hospital feel,” Nespoli said. “As you walk into the unit, it’s very open. You can easily walk into the center of the unit, interact with professionals and get your questions answered. It’s very decentralized; there’s no huge nursing station that creates a barrier between you, the doctors and the nurses.”

The concept mimics the Planetree model, a patient-centered philosophy embraced by select hospital organizations. It was founded in 1978 by a patient, Angelica Thieriot, after she suffered a series of traumatic personal health care experiences. Sacred Heart Hospital already embraced the concept in its OB/GYN and behavioral health units before the renovations to Five Tower.

A patient room from Sacred Heart Hospital's newly renovated Five Tower floor.

A patient room from Sacred Heart Hospital’s newly renovated Five Tower floor.

Sacred Heart Hospital campus receives close to 250,000 visits to its 421 West Chew Street plaza each year. One of the Lehigh Valley’s top employers, Sacred Heart and its affiliates have nearly 1,500 employees, up from about 1,100 over a four-year period. The network has had great success in physician recruitment in recent years. The four office buildings on its campus have increased from half empty to 90% occupied in the past few years, Nespoli said.

“Medical urologists, radiation oncologists, neurosurgeons and dozens of other physicians are coming to Sacred Heart because they want to have more control over their practice, believe in our mission, and believe they can make a difference,” he said. “They enjoy the smaller environment and are also very excited about the comeback of our neighborhood and downtown Allentown.”

Sacred Heart has made several major investments at the hospital in recent years, including upgrades to its cancer center and electronic medical records, in line with a five-year plan to invest $50 million in improvements. The network has also been growing as an integrated community health system, with 35 primary care provider locations across 10 sites in Allentown, Emmaus, Northampton, Dorneyville and Saucon Valley.

A private developer is expected to break ground soon on a new 80-unit senior housing center at its Allentown campus, which will be a 12-month project. The hospital will occupy the first floor with geriatric and rehabilitation services. The hospital is located within the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), and the network has been able to use that financing on several projects, including improvements to two medical office building, and the renovations of a vacant former nursing dormitory into a professional office building with 100 employees.

Sacred Heart takes a holistic approach to care, combining mental and physical health with spiritual care in a small environment. They received an outstanding quality report card this year, performing better than expected in mortality rates and complication rates, while keeping costs much lower than the median, Nespoli said. They also performed well in the readmission rate, which monitors the frequency of readmission for people with chronic diseases.

“We’re really benefitting from and progressing forward with the growth of the city,” Nespoli said. “It’s a nice combination of our own success as a hospital and the overall success of downtown Allentown.”

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