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Cooper opens new hospital building in Camden

The lobby, three stories high, with a casino-style concierge desk staffed by an employee in a black suit and silver tie.

John Sheridan, CEO of Cooper Hospital, talks about why they used a great deal of window light in the construction of the new Pavilion. (Michael Bryant / Staff)
John Sheridan, CEO of Cooper Hospital, talks about why they used a great deal of window light in the construction of the new Pavilion. (Michael Bryant / Staff)Read more

The lobby, three stories high, with a casino-style concierge desk staffed by an employee in a black suit and silver tie.

The business center to check work e-mail free of charge while your spouse sleeps off an appendectomy.

Patient rooms with beds oriented toward large windows, and necessities such as medical-waste bins hidden from view.

This is Cooper University Hospital's new $220 million Pavilion in downtown Camden, which will have its grand opening tonight with visits from political dignitaries and a fireworks show.

The building - part of the Cooper-led redevelopment of downtown Camden - incorporates the latest ideas in hospital architecture and patient-centered care.

It is key in Cooper's strategy to become not just a leading hospital in the Philadelphia area, but a national brand, like the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins.

"We are striving to become among the greatest in the region and among the best in the country," said George Norcross, chairman of the hospital board of trustees.

The Pavilion, he said, conveys Cooper's message to patients and families: "We're trying to make the health-care visit as pleasurable and comforting as possible."

Construction on the 10-story structure, which eventually will be named after a benefactor, began in 2006. The complex will open in phases over several months.

Adjacent to the existing Cooper buildings, the Pavilion faces Martin Luther King Boulevard near Haddon Avenue, closer to the city's transportation hub than to the hospital's previous entrance.

"We sort of had our back to the city. We wanted to put our front to the city and we wanted to be welcoming to public transportation," said John Sheridan, the hospital's CEO.

Cooper hopes that with its many amenities, the Pavilion will attract more suburban patients, Sheridan said. But Camden's low-income residents have not been forsaken.

"We have a mission to take care of the people of the city who can't afford health care," he said. "To do that, and provide great medical care, and attract the top docs, you have to have a certain portion of the business that's commercial. You do that by attracting patients who pay insurance and live in the suburbs."

Patients at the Pavilion will park at a new garage and enter through a corridor with glass panels that show the 121-year history of the hospital and a large image of its TV spokeswoman, Kelly Ripa.

Visitors will then pass a staff medical library before walking into a stunning atrium bathed in natural light. Bamboo reaches toward the ceiling and a coffee shop offers gelato.

There is a 90-seat restaurant with booth seating and, soon, a Health Resource Center where patients and their friends and families can research medical conditions.

"When you walk into that building you will think you're in a luxury hotel," Norcross said. "I'm not kidding you."

Though the lobby is open, the nine upper stories are a few weeks from opening. Two will contain a total of 60 patient rooms, all private, as is the trend in new hospitals. Older rooms in Cooper's Kelemen building, opened in 1979, will then be renovated.

The third floor will have 12 operating rooms, and the fourth will house Cooper's new intensive-care unit with 30 beds, six more than the current ICU. It will also have its own pharmacy.

Five stories are shells reserved for later expansion.

For nearly three years, Cooper nurses helped perfect designs for the new ICU and patient rooms. Replicas were built at a warehouse, and staff members provided feedback to Philadelphia's EwingCole architectural firm.

After giving the firm their requirements, "they came back to us with a design and we said, 'No, this needs to be there,' " said nurse Mary Jo Cimino, clinical director of the ICU and patient floors.

For its progressive focus, Cooper was awarded membership in Planetree, a Connecticut nonprofit that advocates "patient-centered" hospital care. It's the only member hospital in the Philadelphia region.

"What makes Cooper stand out is their size," said Susan Frammton, president of Planetree. "It's always more complicated and challenging in a large university setting. . . . How do you take a personalized, humanized model of care and do it in a huge hospital setting?"

Frammton praised Cooper's use of color and its creation of "a more domestic aesthetic [that] feels more like home."

Among other features at the Pavilion:

Beds will be angled to give nurses a view of patients from the hallway and allow occupants to see out of large windows.

A nurses station will be situated between each room on the ICU floor. Nurses will carry smart phones that signal when patient monitors indicate an emergency.

Targeted lighting will allow nurses to take blood without waking patients. Couches in the rooms are big enough for family members to spend the night, and the hallways are carpeted, easing stress on workers' feet and reducing noise. Computers in each room allow staff to access and share medical data.

A hand-washing station in each patient room is intended to reduce risk of infection.

Wall units behind beds hide tubes and other medical equipment, and allow 360-degree access to the patient.

"When you're just sitting in there, looking at your loved one, you're not looking at all these machines behind them," said Lori Shaffer, a hospital spokeswoman. "It's a calming environment."

Cooper's expansion is far from complete. The facades of the other two hospital buildings are being renovated to match the glass of the Pavilion, and by 2010, an emergency room double the size of the current one will open in Cooper's former lobby.

The existing emergency room, built to handle 20,000 annual visits, now handles 55,000, the hospital said.

And the Pavilion has space for up to 120 more patient beds. After recovering from fiscal problems a decade ago, Cooper has increased its patient load 15 percent over five years to an average of 360 daily.

The hospital plans construction totalling about $280 million. Groundbreaking for a cancer institute could be next year, and a stem-cell research center and medical school are proposed. Like the Pavilion, they will be paid for through bonds.

Norcross said he believed Cooper was one of the few anchors in the city that can turn Camden around.

"I'd be very proud to be in the same sentence as the University of Pennsylvania," he said, referring to the university's expansion into West Philadelphia.

"They have done an unbelievable job of redeveloping a community," he said.

Like the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Cooper wants to be known for its specialties - heart disease, orthopedics, cancer and neurology.

"There's a lot of [people] going across the river [who] don't need to go across the river," Sheridan said.