Mention the word “hospital” and most people cringe with uneasiness. More often than not, the health care system is viewed as an automaton that doubtless has the science to cure, but falls short of expectations in the area of providing tender loving care.
But an increasing number of medical establishments are working to change the way health care is delivered. Along with cutting-edge technology and the expertise, they’re also focusing their attention on the softer, humanitarian side of medicine.
The Northern Westchester Hospital was recently honored 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 title.
To mark the occasion, the hospital held a ceremony on October 16. A 12-feet London sycamore tree was planted at the entrance to the hospital, festooned with balloons and banners, as a gathering of 300-odd people watched on.
Attendees received faith stones, etched with inspirational words like charity, faith, love, hope, peace, tranquility, friends, harmony, etc., as mementos.
Along with about 125 hospitals around the U.S., the Northern Westchester has been affiliated with Planetree, Inc., a Connecticut-based non-profit, which has been in the forefront of a movement to transform health care to the perspective of the patient.
It was founded in San Francisco, in 1978 by Angelica Thieriot, a patient who’d been hospitalized in the mid-1970s. While in treatment, she’d no complaints about the medical expertise she received, her stay was otherwise miserable.
The hospital staff wore a paternalistic attitude and refused to share any information with either her or her family. Once discharged, she set out to demystify and humanize the health care system so that those in need of care genuinely felt cared for.
The organization takes its name from the plane tree or sycamore, under which, in the 5th century B.C., the Greek physician Hippocrates, sat and taught his pupils a balanced and gentle approach to medicine. Thus, the name “Planetree.”
Speaking on the occasion, president and C.E.O. Joel Seligman said, “We’re 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.”
David Stockwell, a former cancer patient is well-versed with the treatment at the Northern Westchester. “The cancer center is known as the wellness center, as you know. It is absolutely excellent,” he said.
In the past five years, Stockwell has been admitted there three times—twice for brain surgery in April 2005, only a month after the Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center was opened and later, that year, for 33 shots of radiation, a normal protocol for Hodgkin’s disease, he said.
Recounting his experience as a patient, he said, he was highly satisfied with the hospital’s overall service. “As a cancer patient, you look for peace and quietude, which you find there,” he said.
Comparing Northern Westchester with a leading cancer research center in New York City, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, he said, while Sloan-Kettering treated him “just like another number,” the former gave him personalized comfort and care. “The staff is just terrific,” he added.
“Northern Westchester has modern technology, great experts, and the humanity that every patient wants and deserves,” said Carin Grossman, vice president of Marketing and Public Affairs at the hospital.
“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,” she added.
Space, there is.
The cancer center is reminiscent of a spa, complete with spacious atria, tastefully decorated with fish-tanks, fountains, colonnades, and artwork.
There’re no harsh, glaring fluorescent tubes. Mellow lighting creates a serene, soothing atmosphere. Patients aren’t required to wear staid hospital gowns, but are provided with white, terry-towel robes.
The full-service, 235-bed facility, which serves northern Westchester, Putnam, and southern Dutchess counties in New York as well as parts of Fairfield County in neighboring Connecticut, offers private rooms to all its patients.
A unique blend of tradition and modernity, it has specially trained nurses who bring the practice of Reiki—an ancient stress-reduction technique—to the healing process.
Hospitals typically use pungent-smelling, chemicals-based antiseptic cleansing solutions. This one, however, uses eco-friendly, green solutions that add to a comforting aura.
Unlike most hospitals, which severely limit the visitation hours, the Northern Westchester has a lenient visitation policy that has a philosophical underpinning: that family and friends are “good medicine” for a patient.
“We don’t restrict visitors to visiting hours. For example, we allow family members to visit any time, to [have access to] places that in the past, would’ve been restricted areas such as the intensive care unit,” said Grossman.
“We have a patient-directed visitation policy where we work with the patient to work on a visitation plan that works best for them.”