Just a few years ago, Henry Ford Health System was a fairly typical hospital network centered around a main urban campus and focused on treating the sick. Its dining operations were outsourced and provided a basic food service program for patients, staff and visitors by way of fairly typical operations.

Today, the system is in the midst of a highly ambitious strategic transformation. It’s one that Henry Ford’s top administrators believe will position it to succeed and thrive in a future healthcare environment they see as quite different from the one that exists today.

That new environment, driven by financial, regulatory, demographic and cultural factors, is expected to shift the role of healthcare providers from the traditional model of caring for the unhealthy to encouraging the healthy to adopt habits and lifestyles that help them stay that way. Henry Ford is determined to be an industry pioneer in this emerging era.

While excellence in clinical areas remains a priority, of course, Henry Ford is making a strategic move to embrace what it calls its Henry Ford LiveWell model. Henry Ford LiveWell requires the system hospitals and outlets to embrace an educational approach to their relationships with not only patients and their families but also with staff, visitors and the community at large.

“The whole Henry Ford system is strategically focused on integrating a wellness approach throughout its operations,” says Bethany Thayer, director of Henry Ford’s Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Thayer reports directly to the Henry Ford Health System’s Chief Wellness Officer, Kimberleydawn Wisdom, MD (a former surgeon general for the state of Michigan). “It is in our vision statement and part of the strategic planning for the new center of excellence on wellness that we launched in 2012.”

The transformation has extended to foodservices, with dining operations now self-operated and set to serve an expanded mission that supports Henry Ford’s commitment to becoming a model for the healthcare system of the future.

“We decided to bring dining operations in house from outside management because food is a critical component of wellness and we wanted to own our brand so we could make that connection in customers’ minds,” explains John Miller, system director of Culinary Wellness, who oversees dining across the Henry Ford system and works closely with Thayer. “The food we serve in our cafes and to patients reflects our system’s health and wellness philosophy.”

Obviously, Henry Ford is not the only healthcare organization to look to this path, but it’s fair to say that none have plunged so deeply into it with such significant institutional commitments to resource utilization.

Henry FordThe Prototype

The largest commitment made by the Henry Ford system to the Henry Ford LiveWell approach can be seen at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, which opened in 2009 and was designed from the ground up to embrace the new approach. It is the first new hospital added by the Henry Ford Health System since its founding in 1915, when its flagship Henry Ford Hospital opened in downtown Detroit. The system has five other hospitals.

The 730,000-sq.ft., $360 million Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital currently has 192 beds, all in private rooms with windows that face an adjacent pond and the surrounding woods. It has a staff of some 2,300, including 500 physicians.

The design, resembling a Northern Michigan lodge and featuring local materials, incorporates cutting edge technologies that promote wellness and emphasize sustainability. The LEED Silver facility sits on 160 acres of wetlands and woodlands with walking trails. It features a rooftop garden and energy-efficient climate control systems, windows and equipment. There is even a hydroponic organic greenhouse out back.

The most dramatic design aspects are a spacious retail corridor and soaring atrium on the first floor. The former, branching off from the main entrance, boasts a series of shops ranging from the hospital’s pharmacy to a shop selling specialty healthcare products and healthy lifestyle goods and a branded Caribou Coffee shop.
Also situated on the retail corridor are a fully equipped, state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen and Vita, a wellness center that offers programs ranging from yoga classes and massage services to alternative medicine services like acupuncture.

“Studies have shown that more patients also are seeking out integrative medicine, but many don’t tell their doctor they’re doing it,” explains Nabil Khoury, MD, interim chief medical officer. “Each therapy offered at Vita—both traditional and integrative—has been carefully evaluated by a scientific advisory panel to ensure its safety and effectiveness.”

The 90-seat Demonstration Kitchen conducts regular cooking classes—with a health and wellness emphasis. It also serves as an educational tool for patients, who can watch the sessions from their room TVs through a closed circuit hookup.

There are also culinary classes geared to helping employees to hone their cooking skills. “We want to develop a culture of emotionally engaged employees,” says Miller. “We also look for people with a talent for compassionate care.”

Meanwhile, the atrium, towering three stories high and flooded with natural light from three skylights during the day, features a green roof with some 20,000 plants that absorbs rainwater and helps cool the building. Inside, it has over 2,000 more live plants lined along its cobblestoned paths as part of its design to provide a peaceful space for relaxation and contemplation. Refreshments are available in the atrium from a kiosk stand featuring products from local purveyor Great Lakes Tea & Spice. As an additional special touch, a traditional high tea is served in the atrium every afternoon.

In the patient rooms, the various design aspects, from how the furniture is arranged to what color schemes are used, are the result of extensive consumer research with several thousand participants giving their input. Every room has a sleeper sofa and recliner for family members who want to stay overnight (there are also family rooms with beds, tables and kitchen facilities on each floor for more extended stays), as well as wireless internet service and flat-screen TVs with on-demand programming. The patient rooms also have no shared walls in order to maximize noise reduction.