Healthy Indulgences

If you think hospitals are all lumpy beds, chicken broth and wall-to-wall linoleum, think again.

A new wave of extraordinary medical facilities, many of them right here in Southern California, are redefining the healing process. In addition to their world-class clinical capabilities, these forward-thinking hospitals offer lavish luxuries that range from healing gardens to harpists, on-call chefs to concierges. And while these little extras might seem superficial, many hospital administrators are convinced of their palpable impact on a patient's response to treatment.


"There are certain amenities here that are available to everybody: the artwork, the harpist, the Pooch Program — we just got a wonderful grand piano that plays in some of the special lobbies," said Mark Gavens, chief operating officer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "The idea is to make the place more comfortable, welcoming and warm, so that patients feel that this is a caring place."

While Cedars-Sinai serves a huge number of patients (more than 50,000 each year), a few of its 900-plus beds — and some very special services — are set aside for those patients willing to pay a premium.

"There are special rooms available to them that are larger, that have separate living areas," Gavens said. "[There are] chefs who are … available on the floor to make meals up fresh right there and then." There are even special parking privileges available, he said.

Cedars-Sinai can even provide a round-the-clock concierge to respond to a self-pay patient's every need — even if that need involves having a visitor picked up from an airport.

The Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center, which opened at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank just over a year ago, offers not only traditional cancer treatments like radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, but also complementary therapies like massage, yoga, acupuncture and meditation.

"There are real reasons for using massage in post-cancer treatment," said Patricia Aidem, spokeswoman for Providence Health and Services, the not-for-profit organization that operates the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center. "Pain is a big deal afterwards and it's not always dealt with. They've found that with acupuncture, with certain fitness programs, they can address that pain."

Other premium amenities at the outpatient Disney Cancer Center include a library where patients and family members can research their illnesses; a personal appearance boutique to help with wigs, prosthetics and special cosmetics; nutritional counseling; and a healing garden where during construction nurses and construction workers wrote the names of loved ones affected by cancer on seashells implanted in the concrete.

Indeed, everything at the $36-million four-story Disney Cancer Center has been carefully conceived from a patient's point-of-view, from spiritual and psychological counseling to the sensory experience in the radiology unit. Every patient is issued a badge implanted with a microchip containing his or her lighting, music, video and room-temperature preferences. Rooms adjust automatically as the patient enters. It's an amenity available to everyone — not just those paying out of pocket.

"Cancer patients are the most vulnerable out there ... they're frightened obviously with their diagnosis; they're frightened of the giant machines," Aidem continued. "The intention is to empower patients: to have them be involved in their treatment. We have 'nurse navigators' who are there right after or even during diagnosis to basically first translate what the doctor has told you.... These navigators walk you through the system, tell you what to expect, answer the most personal questions — you can call these people pretty much 24/7."

Liz Dunne, executive officer of City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, agreed that a patient's psychological welfare is at least as important as his or her physical health.

"Our credo is: 'There is no profit in curing the body if, in the process, we destroy the soul,'" she said. "Cancer patients experience emotional and psychological issues as well as physical, and we have created an environment where patients and families feel supported and nurtured throughout their treatment experience.... We offer indoor quiet areas for meditation or prayer and expansive outdoor gardens where patients and families can seek spiritual or personal comfort."

City of Hope specializes in cancer treatment and care, as well as the treatment of other life-threatening diseases, including HIV/AIDS and diabetes. While the majority of its patients come from Southern California, some travel from other parts of the country — or even from other countries — for its advanced medicine and compassionate care.

"Many of our patients undergo bone marrow transplants, which require extended stays in the hospital," Dunne explained. "We designed our Helford Clinical Research Hospital with comfortable, spacious private rooms that also can accommodate a family member. Each room has sweeping views of the San Gabriel Mountains or Valley as well as Internet, television and other technology to connect patients to the outside world. Our 130-acre campus features garden spaces and lush landscaping to help bring the natural world to patients, helping to facilitate our patients' journey towards recovery and wholeness."

City of Hope even includes 40 residential bungalows on its park-like Helford grounds for families visiting from afar. The bungalows are also available to patients who are strong enough to leave the hospital but still require daily transfusions or other treatments.


—Paul Rogers, Custom Publishing Writer