Home Away from Home

July 01, 2013

Written by JEANNINE STEIN

VIP Caritas Suites
The first thing that stands out about the Caritas Suites at Saint John’s Health Center is the quiet. Hospitals, by nature, are usually bustling. But this place is busy yet serene.

The suites offer an upgraded stay for patients who want additional amenities and a more restful atmosphere. Absent are the clatter of computer keys and the rattle of food carts rumbling down hallways. Signs of comfort are everywhere, such as in the reception area where an artisan glass jug filled with lemon slices dispenses cool water.

The fourth-floor windows offer a panoramic view of the city, and nurses sit quietly at the elegant wooden table at the nurses’ station – their noisy equipment stashed in a separate nearby room. “It’s about taking that fear and stress away,” says Janice Frost, RN, director of the Caritas unit. “It’s peaceful.”

For years, Saint John’s has offered its patients the option of upgraded suites. But when the hospital underwent its recent major renovation, the Caritas Suites shifted to another area of the hospital and received a facelift as well.

Spacious, private rooms offer abundant features. Beds are covered with soft linens, fluffy comforters and decorator pillows. Patients can store snacks in a small refrigerator and wake up with a hot cup of coffee from the in-room coffee maker. No need to bring a robe or slippers – fresh, plush ones are provided.

Having some friends or family drop by for the Dodgers game? Offer them a roomy recliner in front of the large, flat-screen TV that also provides Internet access. Enjoy the stellar view from a cushy window seat or carry your laptop into the small alcove, which features a sleek wooden desk and attractive throw rug. Colorful ceramic vases and artwork warm the room even more.

Not in view is the usual array of medical equipment, such as blood pressure cuffs and other monitors. Those are kept hidden away behind sliding panels near the bed. “Out of sight is out of mind,” says Irene Bristol, RN, director of major gifts for the Health Center Foundation.

The rooms are available to all patients, provided they’re not being treated in the intensive care unit or having a baby. (The maternity unit also offers Caritas Suites.) People who choose Caritas Suites often want to minimize the anxiety of being in the hospital. “What I hear from patients often is that they’re distressed being in the hospital,” Frost says. “This offers them an opportunity to be where it’s quieter and they can get a little more attention.” Doctors, Frost adds, may recommend Caritas Suites to patients if they think their stress levels will be high. Celebrities, too, often choose to stay here, as do the hospital’s donors. “It has a feeling of being a little more secure and very private,” Bristol says.

With an OK from their doctor, patients can order from a special menu featuring filet mignon, filet of salmon, pan-seared halibut and appetizers. Still need some help deciding what to eat? Patient advocate concierge Anthony Cacace will go over the selections with you.

Cacace handles patients’ non-clinical needs, such as getting a favorite newspaper or magazine. “He’s able to make their requests happen right away,” Frost says. “He can go to the kitchen and get them what they need.”

But sometimes what patients need can’t be found in the hospital pantry. “Some patients just need someone to talk to,” Cacace says, which he’s happy to do.

Caritas nurses, Frost says, are specially trained to care for patients who have undergone orthopedic procedures, plastic surgery and breast reconstruction. They are highly skilled in managing patients with all medical and surgical conditions. Also, many nurses in the unit are certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support, which focuses on life-threatening medical emergencies.

Caritas Suites
Nurses were also instrumental in the design of the suites, Frost adds. “The administration was very open to allowing the staff to have a say in what we thought would be helpful for our patients.”

Registered nurse Colleen Taylor came to the Caritas unit a year ago. She has worked for the hospital for 35 years, most recently in critical care. What was the appeal of working here?

“I liked the idea of being able to deal with patients on a little bit of a different level,” she says. “Before it was more hurried, and here I can spend more time with patients. I’ve met some interesting folks up here.”

One was patient Maria Arechaederra, who last year underwent a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery due to breast cancer. The patient’s mother, also named Maria Arechaederra, thought Taylor’s care was so extraordinary that she wrote a letter to Bristol praising the nurse’s outstanding service.

“Colleen went about the care of my daughter in the most professional and caring way I have ever encountered,” she wrote, adding that Taylor turned the room’s window seat into a makeshift bed for her while assisting her daughter throughout the night.

“As a parent, I had been, for almost a year, in high alert, trying to make this journey easier for my daughter and her family,” she said in the letter, “and that night was the first time that somebody was taking care of me.”

“With that type of surgery,” Taylor says, “you have limited mobility in your arms. I can only put myself in the mother’s position, seeing her daughter so ill. I really do care about the patients. We bonded right away. It was like taking care of family.”

Arechaederra says there was more to Taylor’s care of her daughter than nursing. “All the nurses were incredible, but she went beyond the call of duty. It’s amazing that she can feel the needs of everyone, including the person who’s going through the surgery and the family.”

A former member of the hospital’s board of directors, Arechaederra suggested her daughter choose Caritas to make her hospital experience as anxiety-free as possible. “When you’re going through something so dramatic, you want the best you can have,” she says. “I wanted her not to be depressed. This was really the right place for her to be.”

Her daughter agrees. “Nurse Taylor had a wonderful, charming demeanor and calm confidence that helped me gain confidence to do the simple personal tasks required during my rehabilitation,” she says.

The younger Arechaederra especially liked being able to accommodate family members who wanted to spend the night. “I think experiences like this can be as – if not more – stressful for my caregivers and family, and having a comfortable surrounding for them, where they felt welcomed and not an intrusion, was a really nice perk.”