At the dedication ceremony held November 18, 2016, for The Lennar Foundation Medical Center — the gleaming five-story, 206,000-square foot state-of-the-art outpatient facility constructed by UHealth-the University of Miami Health System on the Coral Gables campus — speakers described a new vision for health care.
“We will know you personally, care for you individually, and guide you uniquely,” said Ben Riestra, the facility’s chief administrative officer, in a video shown at the event. “This is not just about a new building. It’s a new destination, a new experience, a new way of being well.”
UM President Julio Frenk described the University’s model of academic, patient-centered care. Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute, men’s and women’s health, urology, neurology and other exceptional UHealth specialties, he noted, would serve south Miami-Dade patients in a single convenient location.
“This is the future of health care,” he said, “and it’s the reality today at the University of Miami.”
But when the doors officially opened on December 5, 2016, and the first patient hobbled in — a former college football player on crutches who had an old knee injury requiring further surgery — the vision became reality.
One year later, Lennar’s leaders say they have made good on their promises, they have the numbers to prove it, and they are just getting started.
“The patient volume at The Lennar Center is currently outpacing our original goal by 60 percent,” said Riestra. “We knew this facility was taking off after about six months, when we were seeing patient volumes consistently surpass 600 to 700 per day. In all, we have treated just over 200,000 patients in the past year, and we now average more than 1,000 per day. Our biggest day so far was just over 1,200 patients.”
For visitors to the peaceful main lobby, those numbers don’t seem possible.
“That was a deliberate part of our plan,” said Riestra. “We designed the building to control patient flow in such a way that there is a calm feeling in public areas even though we are a very busy operation. That included putting valet stations at both the front and back of the building so we don’t get mini traffic jams.”
When The Lennar Center was still under construction, there was a sort of “build it, and they will come” belief that its location would gain UHealth a large, new segment of patients drawn to an academic-based outpatient facility that was closer to their homes, and easier to contend with, than the medial campus farther north. That belief proved true, but it has been amplified by the quality of the overall care experience that has caused so many patients to spread the word, and to arrange for care for their whole family to be moved to The Lennar Center’s providers.
“That’s powerful, and it’s not anecdotal,” said Riestra recently. “It’s people talking to me, face to face, and then acting on it. It happened to me with one patient just this morning. It’s easy to build a pretty building, but these people talk about how well they were treated by the staff and how well they were treated clinically. I hear about kindness, respect and compassion. It begins with the valets helping them in and out of the car, and asking them how they are feeling today, and continues all the way through their appointment. That, to me, is what makes this place work.”
A high level of patient satisfaction has also been reported in the surveys conducted by Press Ganey Associates, a research firm that asks patients to rate their experiences.
“Many of our service lines are seeing patient experience scores in the high 90s,” said Riestra. “We think this is powerful; it shows how happy our patients have been with their care experience.”
Due to its rapid growth, The Lennar Center now boasts a staff of 300, including 120 physicians, and coming physical additions include a second MRI machine and a second radiation oncology unit.
Operational achievements, however, are just part of a larger strategy that extends beyond The Lennar Center’s walls.
“We are working to revolutionize health care by offering a comprehensive human experience,” said Gissette Onorato, the Center’s executive director for human experience. “Our foundation is built on three pillars: staff engagement, patient engagement and community engagement.”
Staff satisfaction is as critical as patient satisfaction, she explains, because unhappy staff have a negative effect on the patient experience. Human Resources helped screen applicants for empathy and compassion, in addition to assessing other professional qualities, to make sure the right candidates were chosen for the available openings.
“This was instrumental to our success,” said Onorato.
She also measures staff morale with surveys that ask employees if they feel like they have a voice in their job or whether they would recommend The Lennar Center to a friend.
“Our employee engagement ratings are very positive,” said Onorato. “Compassion, empathy and dignified care are what make this building great. You can tell our people feel they are part of what we are creating. Generating that spirit is one of the most difficult things to do in an organization, and we did it in a year.”
Other aspects of the Lennar Center experience energize both staff and patients. The piano in the main lobby — available to anyone who wishes to play — is a favorite, as is the therapy dog, who enjoys blood-pressure-reducing pats from patients. There are also joint programs with the Frost School of Music, such as chamber music concerts, and an upcoming first-of-its-kind program with UM’s Lowe Art Museum, which will provide robot-guided tours of its holdings, which patients will be able to view on screens across campus while undergoing lengthy treatments such as chemotherapy.
Still to come in 2018 are holistic programs featuring meditation, tai chi and yoga, and events around nutrition, physical fitness and injury prevention — all of which will be open to the community, whether or not they are patients. The overall goal is to bring a creative, forward-thinking approach to health care.
“It all comes down to a team effort, and we have an incredible team here,” said Riestra. “We truly work with the same mission — to provide a utopian medical experience for everyone. But you only achieve that by working toward that goal every minute of every day. We have a philosophy and a culture of continuous improvement.”