As Chuck Hayes, CEO of MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, Maine, tours me through MGMC’s new hospital, he has one very specific response to how we will live tomorrow: “As of July 1, the hospital will stop selling soda. That is not going over too well.”
Offhand comments often reveal deep truths, and the fact that MGMC will stop selling soda is as relevant to healthcare as the $312 million facility they opened in November 2013. I was a member of the initial design team for this LEED Gold, Integrated Project Delivery, evidence-based design facility. Our enlightened client was open to the most advanced healthcare ideas, yet within two years certain design decisions, like a soda fountain in the cafeteria, are passé. While planning this project no one questioned installing a soda fountain the cafeteria. Every hospital cafeteria had one. We never know what will change; we only know that change will occur.
My role in healthcare design was to align building design with clinical needs, to ensure efficiency and flexibility. I guided the big decisions. Perhaps that’s why when I tour a completed building I’m struck by the details that evolved later – the signage, the graphics, how the light defines space, and where the interior designers chose to change colors.
MGMC is beautiful at every level of detail, and Chuck is justifiably proud of the building. Yet he, too, focuses on details. He explains how the nurse call system allows patients to send direct requests for water or toilet assistance rather than a general buzz, and how RFID tags help locate equipment and staff. He describes MGMC’s program to incorporate locally sourced food and why the salad bar is the first thing everyone meets upon entering the cafeteria. In fact, Chuck barely touches on the medical parameters of the facility. That MGMC has the latest medical technology is a given. He focuses on the intersection of that technology and the rest of people’s lives: their $4 million effort in community wellness; the demonstration kitchen; and education programs.
Toward the end of the tour, I ask Chuck, “How will we live tomorrow?” His response reflects the focus of our tour:
“Right now we are really busy in the inpatient and acute care arena. Even though we are experiencing an aging population, we anticipate that this focus will level off as we shift to health management. There will be more care in outlying clinics and at home. The social issues in making this change are more challenging than the medical ones. Getting people to keep appointments, get transportation, move every day, eat well. These have to align to keep people out of the hospital.”
I spent thirty years working in healthcare in the United States, a system that has always favored the newest, biggest, and best technology over mundane things like primary care, diet, exercise, and wellness. Chuck heads a very sophisticated regional hospital that has all the latest technology. But like so many others in our healthcare system, he understands that while our technology is wonderful, the best health will come to those who do not need those interventions.