DeGraff Memorial Hospital is turning to private rooms in hopes of attracting more patients, a trend that has taken hold nationwide as facilities compete for business.
The community hospital in North Tonawanda on Wednesday unveiled the results of a $250,000 project to convert 55 of its 70 beds from semi-private to single rooms.
The hospital, which is part of Kaleida Health, plans to offer the amenity at no extra charge to every acute-care patient. The rooms devoted to patients undergoing rehabilitation will remain semi-private.
"We were looking for a market niche and going to private rooms seemed like a good idea, especially since we could do it at a reasonable cost," said Christopher Lane, president of the hospital.
"When you are sick and at your most vulnerable, the peace and quiet of your own room can make a difference in your recovery," he said. "Private rooms will also allow for confidential physician-to-patient interaction."
Over the last few decades, population loss and medical advances resulting in fewer and shorter hospital stays have left many facilities with a lot of empty beds.
At one time, DeGraff had 200 beds. Now, there are 70 beds, of which 60 are in use. The occupancy rate in 2004 based on 70 beds was 65.6 percent, according to state data. Lane said occupancy today is around 80 percent based on 60 beds.
A handful of other hospitals in the area have converted some units to private rooms, and Kaleida Health says 24 of 60 new proposed rooms at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital will be private.
"The private room project is consistent with the caring, close-knit spirit that DeGraff shares with its community," said James R. Kaskie, president and chief executive officer of Kaleida Health. "It will also help keep DeGraff strong in a competitive health care market."
The Kaleida Health Foundation provided the funds for the project.
Historically, private rooms have been a luxury that cost patients extra. But they may become standard in the future.
The nonprofit Facilities Guidelines Institute and the American Institute of Architects' Academy of Architecture for Health, which publish guidelines for hospital construction, appear poised this year to recommend private rooms as a minimum standard in new construction. Most states use the groups' recommendations in their regulations for hospital projects.
The groups say the advantages of single-occupancy rooms include improved infection control, fewer patient falls, and privacy.
The long-term financial effect of moving to private rooms remains unclear. It will cost more to build them, officials say, but they may reduce some costs, such as for transferring patients.
"If the trend comes to pass, it could eventually lead to higher costs that get passed to the consumer, especially in a community like ours, where we have too many hospitals," said Frank Sava, spokesman for Independent Health.