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Hospital rises on its chief’s guiding principles
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Hospital rises on its chief’s guiding principles

When the Princeton Healthcare System developed a strategic plan back in 2003 for a replacement hospital, one of president and CEO Barry Rabner’s first orders of business was to develop the medical equivalent of a Bible.

It contained what he called his guiding principles.

“Reduce errors. Reduce falls. Reduce infections. Improve communications. Improve clinical outcomes. Reduce operating costs,” said Rabner, a 59-year-old Skillman resident. “We posted those guiding principles in front of the room whenever our teams met. When an idea would be advanced, we’d ask which guiding principles would be impacted. Throughout this process, that conversation happened literally thousands of times.”

In essence, each of those conversations was held in anticipation of today — May 22, 2012 — when the $522.7 million University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro was scheduled to open for business. The state-of-the-art facility is the focal point of a health-care campus with a total price tag of $1.1 billion. Once completed, the campus also will include a nursing facility, assisted living, child care, a fitness and wellness center, and medical office buildings.

To date, approximately $145 million has been raised toward the project. Existing assets have been sold and planners have borrowed $300 million.

Several months ago, Rabner, who is the son of Holocaust survivors, invited Jewish leaders from across the community “to come in and see what we’re trying to do and to make sure we covered all of the bases.” He told them about the availability of kosher meals and patients’ access to rabbis and Jewish services.

“I’d like to think that Yiddishkeit is reflected in the strategic and business decisions we’ve made,” said Rabner, the second of three health-care professionals in his immediate family. His mother served as a nurse in the Russian army and later at Passaic General Hospital. Son Marc recently completed his first year as a resident at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (Rabner and his wife, Amy, also have a daughter, Dara, a teacher.)

The new hospital is situated less than three miles from the existing hospital, which will permanently close on May 23. The vast majority of the new facility’s 1,600 employees will be moving over from the current hospital.

“After about 75 meetings with members of the community, it was agreed that our best option was to identify a new site of at least 50 acres, as close to the current hospital as possible,” said Rabner, who was raised in Passaic. “It turns out we’re on a 171-acre site, so we have enough space to expand the hospital in the future and to create a health- care campus. The buildings that were on the site were mostly demolished, so we basically were starting from scratch. This provided us with what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something really special.”

Under Rabner’s direction, every detail of the new hospital, from safety features to patient and family comfort to maximizing staff efficiency, has been thoroughly researched. Rabner and his colleagues traveled across the country to solicit feedback from staff and administrators at approximately 15 other new hospitals. In addition, he convened hundreds of community meetings as well as focus groups involving patients and their families. There also were countless consultations with employees — including physicians and nurses — architects, engineers, and space and health planners.

“You have about 5,000 hospitals in this country, and most were not designed based on evidence,” Rabner pointed out. “We worked with the Center for Healthcare Design and reviewed roughly 1,200 pieces of design research to make sure we were taking advantage of everything that was known.”

Each of the 231 single-patient rooms in the new hospital will feature such amenities as a reading light built into the wall for visitors — so as not to disturb patients — fold-out couches for guests who wish to stay overnight, and 100 percent fresh air to reduce the possibility of infections. Bathroom toilets are just a few feet from beds and can be reached by patients through the use of handrails.

The new hospital’s chapel is an aesthetically pleasing creation, the focal point of which is a curtain coded to represent the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran. An arrow carved into the floor points toward Mecca. Through the use of stained glass and clear glass panels, the color of the room changes according to the location of the sun.

A rabbi and other clergy will be available for counseling, and services for holidays, including Passover, will be offered. Worship services held in the chapel can be broadcast into patient rooms.

“It’s a matter of helping all people — regardless of religion or level of observance — feel as comfortable as possible while they’re facing what obviously could be stressful circumstances,” Rabner said.

As his nine-year odyssey comes to fruition, Rabner has yet to refocus on his long-term plans. In fact, he hasn’t contemplated his future beyond the day of the opening of the new facility.

“On May 23, I’m taking an Adirondack chair and a champagne cooler, and I’m sitting in the parking lot that faces the new building,” he promised. “I’m going to relax, drink champagne, and watch people come and go. Anybody who would like to stop by and say hello is welcome to join me.”

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