Center seeks new image in design of light-filled tower, which opens today


September 21, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Jonathan Bor contributed to this article.

Julian Philip Matthew is a "greeter," welcoming people as they approach the place where he works. He wears a tan and blue uniform and took a hospitality course to prepare for his job.

But unlike a doorman at a luxury hotel, where affluent guests are looking for a good time, Mr. Matthew is stationed at the University of Maryland Medical Center, where he sees "a broad spectrum of people."

Many arrive in physical and emotional pain. Helping to ease that pain, he says, "is the greatest challenge that any of us has."

That same challenge inspired the design of a new hospital wing that opens today at the northwest corner of Greene and Lombard streets in Baltimore.

The Homer Gudelsky Building is a nine-story, $90 million patient tower that provides a new image for America's oldest teaching hospital. It bears a remarkable resemblance to an atrium hotel or multilevel retail center, such as The Gallery at Harborplace.

Zeidler Roberts Partnership of Toronto and Baltimore designed it to be a "hospitable hospital" whose consumer-friendly ambience is part of the healing process.

"The mind and the body are not two separate things. They go together," said architect Eberhard Zeidler. "And we think people will get well faster in a place where they feel more comfortable. . . ."

The tower features a 12-story skylighted atrium filled with black olive trees surrounded by azaleas, and Boston ivy growing overhead. At one entrance are four, 40-foot royal palm trees, some of the first to be used indoors in Maryland.

Other touches that may remind visitors of a hotel or a retail galleria include giant revolving doors at two entrances, glass elevators, and, still under construction, a new restaurant that will have an outdoor cafe.

Upstairs, a patient seeking a change of scenery can walk or wheel to a quiet lounge replete with soft chairs, colorful paintings and a view of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Family members wishing to summon a doctor, make a hotel reservation or inquire about cafeteria hours can walk to a "patient resource representative," a concierge of sorts stationed at a desk overlooking the atrium. There's a "rep" on every floor.

Like the new hospitality staff, the Gudelsky Building is a key element of the medical center's strategy of creating a more humane environment by adapting principles that have proven successful in the retail and hotel industries.

It is also the centerpiece of UniversityCenter, the Westside district where $500 million worth of construction is planned or under way.

The Gudelsky building will be unveiled today as part of a series of opening festivities that end Saturday night with a gala with Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos as hosts.

"It's getting away from a hospital to a hotel-hospital," said Mr. Schaefer. "That was Mr. Gudelsky's idea. The more you can relieve the trauma and worry of going to a hospital . . . I think that's great."

The tower is named for Homer Gudelsky, a Montgomery County businessman and philanthropist who was treated for cancer at the hospital. He was more than satisfied with the quality of care but believed the physical setting could be improved. After his death in 1989, his family foundation donated $5 million to help make that happen.

Other donations came from individuals, foundations and corporations. The state contributed $54 million.

The Gudelsky building is intended to help the medical center recast its image from that of an inner-city hospital caring for a largely poor population to one with a statewide constituency needing sophisticated services ranging from organ transplants to brain surgery.

With 187 beds, the tower devotes two floors to cancer, three to cardiology, two to neurology and one to organ transplants. Floors will open in phases over the next six months; the first patients will move in Oct. 1.

The new beds will replace ones that are being taken out of service in older parts of University Hospital. The addition is connected floor by floor with other buildings of the medical center. A new $5 million main entrance will open Saturday.

Ten years ago, when the hospital was converted from a state-run entity to a private, nonprofit facility, "this place had the image of an indigent-care, city charity hospital, and the architecture didn't help that any," said Dr. Stephen C. Schimpff, executive vice president of the University of Maryland Medical System. "It looked like something built for the Russian government."

Administrators asked the architects to "create an image that says: 'This is the place to go in Maryland if you have an overwhelming illness that needs the most competent of care,' " Dr. Schimpff said.

Administrators say these changes won't lead to higher hospital bills. They say the costs of construction and operation are not significantly greater than they would be given any other design. They also say the retail-oriented design strategy reinforces other health-care delivery initiatives at the hospital.

"We have to think like retailers," Dr. Schimpff said. "We can't think the way we've thought for hundreds of years. Even the word 'patient' is wrong. It implies that we want you to be 'patient' for the doctors."

Morton I. Rapoport, president and chief executive officer of the medical system, notes that hospitals are under pressure to provide the highest quality health care at the lowest possible cost.

"Some doctors may be offended by the term 'customer,' " he said, "but this is an increasingly competitive environment."

The German-born Mr. Zeidler has become a pioneer in the design of what he calls the "atrium hospital," with two open and one under construction in Canada. This is his first in the United States.

The Gudelsky building's resemblance to The Gallery at Harborplace, with its four-story retail atrium, is no coincidence. Mr. Zeidler designed that building, as well the Columbus Center on Piers 5 and 6.

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