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Hackensack UMC's New Tower Showcases the Hospital of the Future

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   February 07, 2023

The New Jersey health system is using the latest in smart technology, for both the patient and the care team, in its new Helena Theurer Pavilion.

Hackensack University Medical Center recently opened the Helena Theurer Pavilion, a nine-story surgical and intensive care tower that showcases the latest in healthcare innovation for both care providers and patients.

Mark Sparta, FACHE, president of Hackensack UMC and the northern region of the Hackensack Meridian Health network, says the 10-year project offers a good look not only at the hospital of the future but the hospital room of the future. Working with New York-based digital health company pCare, healthcare executives created a patient-friendly environment that focuses on collaborative health and on-demand access to resources and family.

"It was important for us, through that building, to be iconic in design," Sparta says. "But at the same time, what went on inside the building was really most important."

The building features 24 operating rooms, 72 post-anesthesia care unit beds, 50 ICU beds, and 175 medical-surgical beds. The operating rooms are equipped with the latest in robotic technology, as well as intraoperative MRI capabilities, large monitors, video-streaming capabilities, and dedicated CT imaging on the ICU floor.

Sparta said health system leaders worked with doctors and nurses to design ICU rooms to their specifications, right down to the placement of equipment and lighting. In addition, they worked with a patient experience committee, comprised of former patients and family members, to get the patient rooms right.

"Sometimes providers and patients and families look at different things from different angles of the prism," he says.

Mark Sparta, FACHE, president of Hackensack University Medical Center. Photo courtesy Hackensack UMC.

When the pandemic hit, and Hackensack UMC found itself in the bullseye, the project slowed down a bit. But Sparta says hospital executives learned a lot during the crisis, including how to isolate patients and create rooms with negative pressure to prevent the spread of the virus. Because only the framework of the new tower had been built so far, he says, they were able to make subtle changes in room design.

"Some of them may seem relatively trivial and almost like no-brainers," he says. "But until you have a pandemic they’re not as evident."

Sparta says it was important that Hackensack UMC also took advantage of the latest in smart room technology—for both patients and providers. That started with the lighting. The hospital used the latest in LED lighting, which he says was "so far advanced" when compared to legacy lighting systems used in the past.

Of the 24 operating rooms included in the new tower, six were designated specifically for da Vinci robotic surgeries, with six multi-port robotic surgical systems and one single-port system, and four robots specifically designed for joint replacement surgeries.

"That level of technology is really important, because when you can minimize tissue disturbance during surgery, recovery is much quicker, [and there is] much less pain," he says. "It's also much more precise [and there is] much less risk for infection."

"In addition to that, we have the ability to video-stream, within the ORs, the entire procedure," Sparta says. "That gives us the opportunity to have pathologists … come in virtually and explore the surgical field with the surgeon, which is really, really important from a diagnostic standpoint, as well as [for] other consultative specialties. We're able to leverage that technology … to teach folks not just from Hackensack University Medical Center and Academic Medical Center, but also from all around the world. Surgeons can stream in. That was very important to us."

The Patient Room of the Future

Turning to patient rooms, Sparta says each room is more spacious, with enough room for the patient and his/her family. Each room is also equipped for virtual visits not just with the care team, but family members, with a camera mounted on the TV and a special code that patients can give out to family members.

That's a lesson learned from the pandemic.

"So many patients—too many—had to say goodbye to their family members over an iPhone that was being held by one of their nurses through Facetime," Sparts says. "It was horrible for the family, horrible for the patients, horrible for the staff."

"Family support and family visitation is really critical to the recovery process," he adds. "We wanted to tackle that not just when a patient is in isolation, but …every day each and every patient [should have] the opportunity to visit with their family members whether they are 5 minutes away, around the corner and can't get away from their desk on their lunch time to come visit, or … whether they're 3,000 miles away on the other coast."

"It's a technology of convenience, but really a necessary technology to promote the healing process," he adds.

Another change is the messaging process. Sparta points out that typical hospital rooms have dry-erase boards on which the care team leaves important reminders and other messages. Each patient room in Hackensack UMC's new tower includes a tablet in its own compartment on the wall just outside the door, integrated with the EHR, which care team members consult before entering the room.

That dry-erase board is also incorporated into the 65-inch flat-screen TV in each room, Sparta says. Each TV has a split-screen capability, so that patients can access their information through the TV. They also have a tablet mounted to the overbed table that they can use to order food and control the TV, shades, temperature, and lighting and access additional resources.

"When we think of healthcare, we think about clinical technology," Sparta says. "What has surprised me is how much technology is available outside of healthcare that we were able to incorporate into the patient experience. It's fascinating."

"We took a lot of feedback from some of those patients and families that we invited in very early on," he adds. "[They asked] questions that we didn't necessarily ask ourselves. Could you do this? Could you integrate this? What if we did this? What if we did that? It's really, really important to be a great listener, and to be able to invite people in, even if you think you know about what the public expects and our community is interested in. It's really eye-opening when you bring them in and give them a forum to provide that type of feedback."

At the same time, Sparta says it's important to think of technology as a part of the healthcare ecosystem but not the only part, or even the most important part. He notes Hackensack UMC conducts all sorts of drills with its providers and staff in the event of a cybersecurity attack or loss of power.

"It's really important to start from the ground up and understand there's a manual process for doing things when and if the technology is not available to us," he says. "With that in mind, the question is how does all this technology, how does the hospital room of the future, bring back the human side to healthcare?"

Sparta says the biggest lesson he's learned from the process is to involve as many stakeholders as possible, from doctors and nurses to patients and families. They have opinions and ideas that go far beyond what technology can do, and those views will determine whether a certain tool, design, or care plan works or becomes ineffective and wasteful. Too many health systems adopt the latest technology without stopping to think about who will use it.

"You'll never take the humans out of healthcare, because this is a people business," he says.

“When we think of healthcare, we think about clinical technology. What has surprised me is how much technology is available outside of healthcare that we were able to incorporate into the patient experience. It's fascinating.”

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation at HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Photo Courtesy Hackensack University Medical Center.


Hackensack University Medical Center spent 10 years designing and building its new surgical and intensive care tower, which features 24 operating rooms and 225 patient rooms.

The tower offers the latest in digital health technology for providers, including robotics and virtual conferencing capabilities, while the patient rooms are designed with smart technology to accommodate patients and their families.

Hackensack UMC President Mark Sparta says it was important to include opinions and ideas from doctors and nurses, as well as patients and family, when designing the tower.

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