Enter Northern Westchester Hospital’s Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center and chances are you won’t feel like you’ve stepped inside the mechanistic universe of a modern healthcare facility, powered by tomorrow’s technology and run by some of the best clinical minds.
It exhibits none of the trademark traits of the present-day medical establishments—a depersonalized treatment, a cagey staff, a web of rigid rules—that make them austere, forbidding places in the eyes of patients.
“It’s simply magnificent,” says David Stockwell, a Katonah resident and a former cancer patient of N.W.H. Little wonder then that only recently, N.W.H. was recognized as a “Designated Planetree Patient-Centered Hospital,” making it one among five hospitals nationwide and the first in New York State to be bestowed this honor.
What distinguishes this elite alliance from the average hospital is that it offers holistic treatment, wherein not only are a patient’s physical symptoms taken care of, but attention is also paid to his or her social, emotional, and spiritual needs. At the core of every hospital practice is the patient’s all-round well being.
Planetree, Inc. is a Connecticut-based nonprofit that collaborates with a host of hospitals across the county as well as oversees to help them device policies that are patient-oriented. It was founded in 1978, in San Francisco, by a patient who had suffered a traumatic experience when she was hospitalized. There are currently 125 Planetree-affiliated hospitals.
To celebrate the occasion, on October 16, a 12-foot London sycamore tree was planted at the entrance to the building as a cheerful crowd of 300 watched on.
Stones etched with inspirational words like charity, faith, love, hope, peace, tranquility, friends, harmony, etc., were handed out as mementos to the attendees.
“We were pleased to have been part of the pilot project for designation, which included a rigorous review of many aspects of our care and patient-centered focus, including how we involve the patient and their family, how we share information, the environment of care, integrative therapies, nutritional aspects of care and much more,” said Joel Seligman, President and Chief Executive Officer of N.W.H., speaking on the occasion.
Explaining the concept of patient-centric care, Carrie Brady, Quality and Designation Policy Strategist at Planetree, Inc. said, “[Healthcare] providers partner with patients and their family members to identify and satisfy the full-range of patient needs and preferences.”
Narrating his experience as a patient, Mr. Stockwell said, “I’ve been [to N.W.H.] three times in the past five years for cancer surgery, twice for brain surgery in April 2005—a month after the center was opened in March 2005—and again, later that year, for 33 shots of radiation, which is a normal protocol for Hodgkin’s disease [cancer of the lymphatic system].”
Drawing a comparison to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center—a leading New York City cancer research center—he added, “I was at Sloan-Kettering only recently. It’s just a factory. The moment you walk in the door, you are made to feel like a number. At N.W.H., it’s just the opposite. They treat your personally. And that’s what makes all the difference.”
“The Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center was opened in 2005 and is designed to be a healing environment with lots of open space and natural light,” said Carin Grossman, Vice President, Marketing and Public Affairs at N.W.H. “It has modern technology, great experts, and the humanity that every patient wants and deserves,” she said.
That’s why you don’t find crowded hallways and bursting waiting rooms at N.W.H. Instead, there’re cavernous colonnaded-atria where you can walk unimpeded.
Where you’d expect to be stared down by the eerie glow of grayish-blue fluorescent tubes, you’re greeted by the mellow glow of soft lighting. Patients don’t have to wear staid hospital gowns. They can slip into spa-like white, terry towel robes. Even the changing rooms have the look, the feel, and the comfort of locker rooms.
“You have fish tanks and fountains,” says Mr. Stockwell. Collections of photographs from Westchester Photographic Society adorn the pastel-colored walls. To promote speedy healing, there’s also an herb garden replete with bromeliads—flowers and foliage known for their exotic shapes and colors—where patients can relax or sit around with family.
When undergoing tests, patients lying supine on their beds have no option but to stare at blank ceilings. At N.W.H., to alleviate the tedium, they’re decorated by floral paintings.
In addition to its state-of-the-art medical, radiological, and surgical therapies, the N.W.H. offers a broad array of complementary therapies such as aromatherapy, Reiki and acupuncture.
“They have private rooms for all their patients, a facility, which is important in itself. I have brain tumor and another patient might have ulcer. You can’t mix them up if you can afford that,” Mr. Stockwell said.
Prompt information-sharing with patients and family is another plus point. Within six hours of his admission to the emergency room following a seizure, the staff informed his wife that he had a brain tumor. “The staff is terrific,” he adds.
But the care doesn’t come cheap. The bill for a four-day-stay came to a whopping $100,000. “But you’ve got to remember that a large part of that went to the neurosurgeon. The insurance company can take care of that. But what’s important is that I’m still alive,” he says.