Club Medicine

by Natasha Wolff | January 11, 2016 2:50 pm

Like death and taxes, dismal hospital rooms seem both universal and unavoidable. But for those looking to escape the indignity of disposable gowns and inedible meals, “amenities floors” offering a decidedly more upscale experience—including gourmet entrées, fresh-cut flowers, tastefully appointed furniture and luxury toiletries—represent an often-shrouded paradise within the healthcare system.

In Manhattan, New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell’s Greenberg 14 South wing offers river-view rooms kitted out with dining tables and Frette linens and marble bathrooms stocked with Molton Brown toiletries. Thirty blocks north, patients staying in Mount Sinai’s Eleven West can look out onto Central Park through damask drapes and enjoy on-demand movies and fully stocked minibars. In Los Angeles, celebrity moms flock to Cedars Sinai for its three-room, two-bath maternity suites, while Brigham and Women’s Hospital—the jewel in Boston’s healthcare crown—puts VIP guests up in the Shapiro Pavilion, where rooms boast dark wood furniture and a daily tea service. Room-service-style menus allow patients to order dishes like lobster thermidor and prime rib to be delivered to their rooms. Menus are often only a suggestion, though, and chefs (with a doctor’s permission) are known to go off-book to adhere to cultural customs or specific tastes.

The cost for these upscale accommodations can range from $325 a night to upwards of $2,000 beyond what insurance will cover. But for some patients, the draw of amenities floors is less about luxury than control. When 24-year-old New Yorker Kara Landsman had surgery to remove part of her intestine, she wanted a room large enough to allow her mother to bunk with her for the two-week stay. Landsman’s gastroenterologist fully endorsed her decision to book a room on Eleven West—he had recently stayed there himself after an appendectomy. Landsman found the floor’s serene atmosphere alleviated much of the anxiety she had going into her procedure. “I had a fear of hospitals and this just felt really comfortable, like I was staying at a hotel,” she says.

Wendy Carduner, chairman of private club Doubles at the Sherry Netherland, is a stickler for fine service.  After staying at Greenberg 14 South for an October surgery, she doesn’t see herself going back to a main floor any time soon. “The room was beautiful and everyone on the floor was really attentive,” she explains. “You feel well cared for.”

Doctors are quick to maintain that while these floors offer a glossier experience, the baseline treatment is equivalent throughout a hospital. “I would have to say, it’s not about the medicine,” says Dr. Steven Harwin, chief of adult reconstructive surgery and total joint replacement at Beth Israel Medical Center. “It’s not about getting better care. It is about getting more focused and dedicated care.” And while it’s a given that eating prime rib while resting on Italian linens can make the hospital experience much more enjoyable, medical studies also suggest that sunlit rooms and peaceful surroundings can in fact hasten the recovery process.

Of course these rooms provide more than just more space and good design: They also offer unparalleled privacy. For ailing public figures—like Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who booked the entirety of Greenberg 14 South for a 2010 surgery—the security of a locked floor can be more of a necessity than an indulgence, according to Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “Politicians, royalty, celebrities—for their own safety a lot of those people need privacy you can’t have on a regular floor,” she says.

Given the costs of upgrading and maintaining these facilities, it’s unclear whether hospitals are actually turning a profit from this enterprise. What they are doing, however, is cultivating future donors by making happy customers out of those most able to pull out their checkbooks. “[The hospitals] are not stupid,” says Dr. Gerald Imber, a New York Presbyterian plastic surgeon. “They figure it out.” One guest at Eleven West was reportedly so impressed by the rapid response to his request for pajamas that he immediately donated $25,000.

Orchids and tea sandwiches aside, for many patients the phenomenon of the amenities floor is simply a way to make the best of a bad situation. “We have end-of-life patients with young children and the staff makes them hot dogs and French fries,” says Christine Collins, executive director of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Connection. “You see three or four generations in a room at the end. It’s a very sad thing, but yet it’s a joyous thing, too, that they’re able [to do that], where that couldn’t happen in a typical room.”

Illustration by Timothy Goodman 

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