High Tea With That IV?

Hospitals or five-star hotels? Luxury just what the doctor ordered in Houston's arms race of swank healing amenities

Hospitals or five-star hotels? Luxury just what the doctor ordered in Houston's arms race of swank healing amenities

Before expecting mom Reba Haskell had her son, she and her husband took a tour of Memorial Hermann Sugar Land to get a feel for the place. And wow, what a feeling they got.

“The hospital was beautiful and modern. There were glass tiles in bathrooms and the whole hospital looks like a hotel,” Haskell says.

She was so impressed with the hospital that she took her sister visiting from California to see the Memorial Hermann outpost.

“My sister had her baby six weeks before me and she said they practically pushed her out of the hospital, there was no counseling and it didn’t look anything like Memorial Hermann,” Haskell says.

Her sister also didn’t have the “extras” such as a massage therapist, harpist and a congratulatory cake offered to her either, but throughout the Memorial Hermann system these are the little things that make a big difference. But don’t think the hospital is all style and no substance. Every amenity offered is backed by medical and scientific research.

“We are not looking to do high-end services,” said Janet Bell, director of customer experience management at Mermoial Hermann Sugar Land. “Patients don’t need silk sheets to feel better, but music has a healing component. We offer amenities to improve patients outcome and help them heal.”

Memorial Hermann isn’t the only hospital incorporating special touches into the hospital experience. Most hospitals in The Texas Medical Center and beyond offer patients upscale rooms on floors that could easily double as high-end hotel rooms. The wood-paneled rooms and sophisticated sitting areas in the Sue Fondren Trammell Pavilion at The Methodist Hospital are some of the special elements designed just for the upscale floor.

Over at St. Luke’s Hospital, there are only nine Terrace Suites available for patients, but the amenities are many, including spacious rooms and bathrooms, a sitting area for guests, two 32-inch flat-screen TVs with satellite and DVD, plus Wi-Fi and laundry service.

Who needs Jell-O and chicken broth when patients can dine on meals prepared by an award-winning executive chef from the American Culinary Federation and served on fine china with silver service? St. Luke’s even offers patients English-style high tea every day, complete with fresh fruit, pastries, cakes, and sandwiches.

The Woman’s Hospital of Texas is also in on the luxury game. Patients can choose from among the six woman’s suites — two-room digs with a queen size, fold-down sofa bed for family members, a TV and DVD player and computer access. The hospital also gives patients and their family access to the fitness center (free-weights, circuit training, personal Pilates, personal training and yoga) and the full service spa.

Hospital administrators recognize most people don’t have the warm fuzzies when it comes to checking in or making visits, so going above and beyond basic medical care is proving to be an important part of the patient experience.

“The look and smell of a hospital doesn’t feel like home, so we want to offer an environment that looks and smells good and has a healing effect,” Bell says. “We want something other than white walls, so there’s lots of color and it’s less hospital-like.”

Memorial Hermann appeals to patient’s sense of smell with baking programs: The scent of muffins trails down the halls in the morning and chocolate chip in the afternoons.

She also admits the hospital business is very competitive, prompting administrators to look for ways to make patients feel extra special. Bell says that Memorial Hermann is also mindful of how expensive and complex health care and insurance is.

For those who worry less about insurance coverage and cost but value luxury, there is University General Hospital on Fannin. The private hospital specializes in bariatric, orthopedic and wellness services, but the gleaming hardwood and marble floors and fine art give the hospital a definite swanky presence.

Need to arrange for limo service or tickets to a performance? One call to the hospital's concierge service and it will be done.

Patient rooms, like other luxury hospital spaces, are large and accommodate overstuffed chairs, thoughtful art on the walls and a flat screen TV with 40 cable channels. Meals are made to order and delivered on carts covered in white linens. All of this is clearly by design since University General’s tag line is “Where Five-star luxury meets clinical excellence.”

In the end though, do all these extras really matter? Isn’t receiving top-notch medical care in a clean environment what’s most important? For new mom, Reba Haskell, there’s no reason why a patient can’t have the best of both worlds.

“It was a great experience,” Haskell said. “And worth every bit of the three grand we paid.”

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Harpist Eileen Paugh plays for the babies in the Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Courtesy of Memorial Hermann Hospital
luxury hotel room
Hospitals may never quite achieve the exact look of a luxury hotel room (like this one), but they're coming awfully close. Concierges included.
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Memorial Hermann Hospital offers many amenities to enhance a patient's stay. Child Life specialist Hollie Young interacts with a patient as part of the patient's care. Courtesy of Memorial Hermann Hospital