The Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven has just opened. The new 14-story building cost $467 million dollars, making it one of the most expensive buildings ever constructed in New England.
It’s a blustery day outside. I walk quickly under a large steel and glass canopy into the Smilow Cancer Hospital.
"Its a fairly grand entrance, more than two stories high". Executive director Abe Lopman is my guide. The lobby is elegant and calm. A waterfall cascades gently on the wall. A volunteer plays the baby grand. "This feels more like walking into the entrance of a Hyatt Hotel than it does a typical health care environment."
He says the hospital wants to create a feeling of comfort and control. "The psychological impact of cancer on the patient is incorporated into the design of this facility. We made sure that patients could see sunrise to sunset. Normalcy is about feeling the day change."
And the more normal patients feel, he says, the more easily they may face the difficult demands of cancer treatment. Most cancer patients have to travel between various locations for medical care. But all of Yale’s cancer programs will soon be located at Smilow.
"Going up" There are lots of banks of elevators to whisk patients to their destinations.
"Time is something that cancer patients are very sensitive to."
We’re standing on the third floor now inside an operating suite. "And I think what strikes you first is the size. We built them bigger because we don’t really know where technology is going to go."
What’s also striking is that there’s no operating equipment on the floor. Everything hangs from the ceiling.
"You have at one end all the equipment that an anesthesiologist needs. The other end you have data screens, the ability for a surgeon while in the operating room to see any of the records that are associated with that patient. Lab results instantly in front of them"
Next, on the 7th floor, we visit an outdoor healing garden complete with a small stream, trees, and heated walkways so snow and ice melt in the winter.
So the question is, do two-story waterfalls and heated walkways make for expensive treatment outside the range most people can afford? Again, Abe Lopman:
"Yale New Haven Hospital has had a strong history of delivering care to anyone who needs that. That policy does not change in this building. The cost of this building is not associated at all with our charge structure".
Smilow Cancer Hospital is expected to create 400 new jobs in the region. And according to New Haven’s Chamber of Commerce will make a voluntary 1.4 million dollar donation each year to the city of New Haven in lieu of taxes.
"Lower ground floor"
Our tour wraps up on the lower level where patient Maria Rosa Menocal is about to start her radiation treatment.
"They discovered that I had a mucosal melanoma and then they took out the tumor. They do radiation to hopefully prevent a recurrence."
Smilow will have 4 floors for outpatient services, 168 inpatient beds, 12 operating rooms, plus a women’s cancer center. Kids needing treatment will come and go through the Yale Children’s Hospital which attaches to Smilow through bridges.
The new building is expected to receive silver LEED certification for its eco-friendly design, construction and operation. Nearly all the construction materials are being recycled.
But of all the design features at the new Smilow Cancer Hospital, some strike patients as being a big change from the normal hospital experience.
"They have no TV in the waiting room." Again, patient Maria Rosa Menocal: "They have a fish tank instead which is great. Its wonderful to be in a new space, but you know at the end of the day it’s the people that run the machines and one would have to be foolish to not recognize it".
Menocal describes her doctor as the “rock star of head and face tumors”. Doctors are part of 12 multi-disciplinary disease teams that provide care for head and neck tumors, brain tumors, breast, endocrine, prostate and other cancers.
The Smilow Cancer Hospital is expected to be fully up and running by next spring.