This fall, Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., unveiled its brand-new Cooperman Family Pavilion. Made possible by a generous donation from locals Leon and Toby Cooperman, the state-of-the-art addition was made with extensive input from the hospital’s patient and family advisory council. We recently spoke with Stephen Zieniewicz about some of those innovations and why safety was the No. 1 consideration in the design process.

When did you know you needed to create a facility like this to serve your patients better?

Zieniewicz: Planning for the Cooperman Family Pavilion started several years ago when it was evident that we needed to upgrade our facility for a variety of reasons. We needed to provide more private rooms for our patients, and we also needed a building that was new and state-of-the-art. Our current hospital facilities are older, and one of the marquee services that's coming over to the new building is our neonatal intensive care unit, which was about 32 years old and needed significant updating. So, we took the neonatal ICU, which is at about 7,000 square feet, and now it's in a footprint of about 35,000. Every baby now has his or her own room, so it's quite lovely, state-of-the-art and really responds to the exemplary needs of our patients: safety, quality, quietness at night, privacy and so forth.

What was the process of designing this facility to meet your patients’ needs? ...

Zieniewicz: One of the things that's important for us is that we include our patients and family members in all of the activities that we do at the hospital. With a project such as this, we were very careful and clear that we had to have patients’ and family members’ participation. So, they were very much involved through focus groups and surveys that were conducted prior to the planning and building. And, as input was being received, we created mock or simulated patient rooms so that we could see what it would look like prior to actually building it out.

We also involve our community’s physicians and our private practitioners involved in the design. And then finally, the designers, architects, engineers and construction companies all have had previous experiences in building health care facilities. So, we combined the input from the community through our patients and families, physicians, our employees, of course, and then experienced architects and engineers. I've also had the opportunity to build a couple of large buildings in my career, so I was able to be very much involved with the success of building a health care facility.

… and how did this process differ from how you might have designed this facility 10 or 15 years ago?

Zieniewicz: Clearly, one of the elements that we were sensitive and careful to include is privacy. Having all-private rooms in our new building was very important. With individual patient rooms comes a greater focus on infection control. And then, finally, quietness at night really has come a long way. As an example, the materials that we used in the hallways and in the patient rooms are sound-attenuating to keep the ambient noise levels lower. With regard to lighting, we were sensitive to the direction of the sun and the positioning of shades so that we could modulate light, especially in our neonatal ICUs. Underdeveloped or premature babies have underdeveloped nervous systems, and we wanted to be very careful not to overstimulate them with light and sound. So, the environment was engineered relative to those concerns.

Why was infection control such a high priority in the design process?

Zieniewicz: Well, safety is our No. 1 priority, and infection control starts with hand hygiene, whether you’re gelling in and gelling out or washing in and washing out. The basis for having a hospital with no infections starts with everybody doing simple things like excellent hand hygiene. As an example, Saint Barnabas Medical Center, over the past 11 scoring periods, received an A from Leapfrog for our focus on and our success with safety and quality. Additionally, when we talk about how we control infection and create a safer environment free from bacteria, germs and pathogens, every room has its own sink for health care personnel, right by the doors. So, when they go in, they can exercise great hand hygiene. If a patient is in an isolation room, right there we have all the equipment to make it easy for the health care team to be prepared to take care of the patient. And then, before they leave the room, the room is set up so that it is easy for health care workers to remove their protective equipment and wash their hands before they step into the hallway.