Creating a Hospital with Hospitality: USF Sarasota-Manatee Students Partner with Blake Medical Center

What is the role of the physical environment in the hospital of the 21st century? How can smart design reduce staff and patient stress, increase effectiveness in delivering care, and improve overall healthcare quality? Four students from the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee’s College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership recently participated in a three-month-long initiative with Blake Medical Center to find out.

The simple goal behind the study? Creating a hospital with hospitality.

Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu, dean of the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership at USFSM, says the partnership was a natural one. “We asked our students to look at the hospital experience through the eyes of the hospitality industry,” he says. “Our field offers the greatest expertise in creating hospitable and healthy environments. Why not apply some of these same principles to hospitals?”

Dan Friedrich, president and chief executive officer at Blake, says the timing could not have been better. “Over the past several years, Blake has been focused on creating high-amenity specialty units to combine clinical excellence with a high-service, hotel-like environment for our patients. As we discussed plans for the newest such unit, a post-surgical cardiac floor, we wanted to strengthen the service component. Dr. Richard Peterson, a cardiac surgeon at Blake, was the one to suggest partnering with a college hospitality program. USF Sarasota-Manatee, with its proximity and reputation for excellence, was the obvious choice for a collaborative project with our hospital.”

According to Friedrich, the goal was “to take a fresh look at, and improve, the hospital experience through the eyes of those in the hospitality industry. Some of their proposed changes were to the patient environment, including color suggestions and furniture layout. Others focused on food service quality, service quality and employee recognition.”

To evaluate the significance of these factors, four USFSM students conducted a series of interviews with hospital patients and staff. Each concentrated on a specific area of expertise. Vanja Bogicevic, an international student from Serbia studying for her second master’s degree in hospitality management at USFSM, was responsible for ambiance and design quality. Anna Shatskikh, an international student from Russia studying for her master’s degree in hospitality management (she graduated in May), and Evan Beese, studying for his bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, focused on service quality. James McManemon, studying for his master’s degree in hospitality management, concentrated on food service quality.

The result was a comprehensive, 68-page “Organizational Excellence Proposal” outlining suggested improvements and specific ways to make them happen. Proposed changes to the patient environment included uplifting and invigorating color schemes, enhanced lighting and user-friendly furniture layouts. Other suggestions focused on food service quality, service quality and employee motivation and recognition.

Friedrich says the hospital was thrilled with the results. “This project gives us a fresh look at the hospital experience through the eyes of talented young students in the hospitality industry,” he says. “This will be an extremely useful aid to us as we work to provide, not only top-quality healthcare, but also a high-service, concierge environment that our patients, visitors and staff expect and deserve.”

“This is a fantastic example of the types of partnerships and real-life experiences USFSM students experience in our community,” says Dean Cobanoglu. “We’re extremely grateful to Blake Medical Center for giving our students the opportunity to participate in this project and provide them with a meaningful, hands-on experience that will further enable them to make a real difference in people’s lives.” He adds that the hospital is in conversation with the College of Hospitality & Tourism Leadership to initiate an ongoing guest service training program for Blake staff members.