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Jan 2016

When Will the Modern Hospital Building Model Finally Takeoff?

When you think about it, airports and hospitals have a lot in common. People are at a hospital and airports not by choice, but out of necessity. Many are coming, others are going. Others are just dropping off or picking up.

But the modern comparison often stops right there. Many hospitals still look exactly like they did 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years ago. Sterile and cold. Bland. Little to offer the non-patient either working or visiting the provider. Sure the TV in the ER waiting room might have gotten flatter and perhaps bigger, but other than the fish in the aquarium there is little difference.

I foolishly predicted 15 years ago that this country’s hospitals would follow the nation’s airport lead and transform into functioning buildings offering far more than standard service for its customers/patients. At the turn of the century, the vast majority of airports in the U.S. suddenly looked very different. In fact, the airports looked more like shopping malls.

I am not sure if the airport agencies listened to customers or saw a hole and filled it. Realizing they had a natural pool of people often mandated to stay put for a minimum of a hour, if not longer, the modern airport transformed into a bevy of wine bars, restaurants, brand name stores and lounges. The airport realized there was more revenue to be generated from the vast terminal space other than airline gate leases.

When my family landed in Orlando eight years ago, I laughed when I looked around the airport. There in front of me was a Hyatt Regency that was physically inside the airport. There was a Disney store. And a store for Sea World. There was even a store for Cape Canaveral celebrating NASA. “That’s it family…we are just staying here. It has everything…including air conditioning so we are avoiding the forsaken Florida humidity all together. Heck, the kids just want to shop for souvenirs, there are quality chain restaurants and the hotel has a pool. Who needs a rental car?”

Don’t believe me? Then you have not travelled by air. I looked up the Orlando Airport on the Internet and here is a small sample of just stores you can shop at while waiting for a flight: Brookstone, Tommy Bahama, Harley Davidson, Finish Line, Johnston & Murphy, Skechers, Sunglass Hut, Oakley and Ron Jon’s Surf Shop.

Being stranded in a 21st Century airport is no longer the end of the world. Not when you can grab a cold one at a Harry Carey’s Tavern in Chicago’s Midway Airport or window shop in the endless stores at JFK in New York. The same cannot be said for a majority of our country’s hospitals. Without the modern smartphone for entertainment, the non-patient entering a hospital would be prepared for having the life completely sucked out of them.

Ironically, a few hospitals across the country are taking advantage of being a victim of the Internet Shopping Era: the dying suburban mall. Instead of bringing the airport mall model to their existing structure, the hospital is taking the hospital to the mall.

In Jackson, Mississippi, a failing mall is now a medical complex that serves low-income residents. The Jackson Medical Mall also has specialty clinics, a college of public service, a restaurant and smoothie bar, and meeting spaces for community events. Vanderbilt University Medical Center did something similar when the hospital took over the entire second floor of the struggling 100 Oaks Mall in Nashville. Parking is easier for patients, and they are sometimes allowed to wander around the still-open parts of the mall with a beeper as they wait for the doctor to see them, according to the Nashville Business Journal.

So take a look around your community, one day that Macy’s or J.C. Penny’s box store just might be a hospital or urgent care center. Or maybe your local hospital will take a look around at all its non-revenue generating space and have a light bulb go off in their budget-crunching mind. Suddenly seeking medical services may be even more enticing with a food court and an Apple Store foot steps away.

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