Vital Signs

Hospitals and Hotels

Once in a while I have to go to a hospital. Most people do. Of course, I go for medical reasons and don't expect it to be a pleasure trip. Fortunately, the medical care I have received in New York hospitals is superb. But hospitals also function as hotels and restaurants. Patients must be lodged and fed in addition to being treated. The food and hotel services provided by hospitals are abysmal (though in rural hospitals they are a little better). Why?

Hospitals only grudgingly recognize that they are not solely medical institutions. "This is a hospital, not a hotel" is a familiar refrain—as though the two functions were mutually exclusive. History shows why bad food and discomfort have always accompanied good medical care. Hospitals started as eleemosynary institutions for the poor. Physicians did not want to go to the slums to see poor patients, who could not pay anyway, and so hospitals were founded to take care of them. Because the poor were grateful and undemanding—they certainly did not complain about a lack of comforts to which they were not accustomed anyway—hospitals grew used to offering only a minimum of comfort. They still do, and this eleemosynary tradition has remained very strong. Administrators are only fitfully becoming aware that they run a business, which includes hotel and restaurant functions in addition to medical care.

Consider some of the unnecessary discomforts which...

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