When Gerald Donovan checked into Long Beach Memorial Medical Center two weeks ago to have his gall bladder removed, he was prepared for every kind of humiliation.
"You leave your pride at the hospital door," said Donovan, 58, a marketing specialist. And sure enough, it wasn't too long before six doctors had come and gone in the space of a few hours, leaving the back of his hospital gown wide open with his buttocks exposed. Eventually, attempting to regain some dignity, the patient asked a nurse to re-tie the gown. "I was pained," he said.
Halfway through his hospital stay, however, a change occurred. Donovan was offered a new gown: a tight-weave high-quality polyester cotton garment with a salmon top and cocoa bottom that not only kept him warm, but preserved his modesty. Thus attired, he said, "you can walk around and not have to worry about your backside being exposed."
Welcome to the new world of hospital fashion at Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach.
Memorial, to be sure, is not the first hospital to experiment with various alternatives to the customary patient "johnnie coat" traditionally tied loosely from the rear. A few years ago, for instance, nearby St. Mary Medical Center switched to beige leaf- or flower-patterned tunics that overlap in the back like double-breasted suits.
More Fashionable Garb
Memorial, however, has taken the trend towards more fashionable hospital garb to new levels. The gowns--which come in peach, orchid and raspberry, in addition to cocoa and salmon--are only the latest offerings in an entire new line of garments custom-designed by a former Memorial nurse to serve the needs of nurses and patients out of what may be the country's only in-hospital fashion boutique.
"It started with getting the nurses together and asking them what they wanted to communicate to the public regarding their image," said Cheryle Van Scoy-Mosher, designer of the line.
What the nurses wanted to communicate, she found, was strong professionalism, pride, sophistication, independence and style. So she designed nursing uniforms that don't look like uniforms at all. Equipped with deep pockets and special loops for scissors and pencils, the loose-fitting trousers, long skirts and classy blouses come in navy blue, khaki, ivory, jade and raspberry.
"The better they (nurses) feel about themselves, the better they will project their profession," Van Scoy-Mosher said. "There was a lot of psychology I tapped into."
Since June 29 the outfits have been on sale for between $60 to $125 at Changes, a small boutique run by volunteers in the hospital's basement. Van Scoy-Mosher sells her outfits to Memorial wholesale. The hospital then uses profits from the store for nursing education and research.
While nurses at some hospitals around the country still wear the traditional starched white uniforms with stockings and caps, Memorial nurses are allowed to wear anything within reason, typically opting for white jeans, tennis shoes and polo shirts.
Not All Will Switch
Not all of them are willing to switch to the more formal look offered by Van Scoy-Mosher.
"The clothes are a little too dressy," complained Vicki Lukz, who was wearing tennis shoes, white pants and a comfortable-looking pink sweater. "I couldn't see myself wearing these shoes with them and I couldn't wear high heels (and be comfortable at work)."
Adrian Horton, a 26-year-old oncology nurse wearing standard surgical scrubs, also had some misgivings. "They're too expensive," she said of the new clothes. "I don't think they're very flattering and some people don't look like health-care professionals when they wear them. I just don't think they're very functional."
To date, staffers say, about 30% of the hospital's 1,600 nurses have purchased the new uniforms. And the designer says she is talking to about 50 other hospitals that are considering making the line available at their institutions.
The patient gowns, which are still being distributed throughout Memorial, were the next logical step. In hospitals that still use the traditional gown, "it's not unusual to see people walking around and you can see their bodies," Van Scoy-Mosher said. "They wouldn't wear this in their own homes. People are exposed; it's a humiliating, degrading experience."
It was more than just altruism, of course, that prompted Memorial's expensive switch to the reusable designer gowns at a 500% increase in wholesale cost from $3.73 to about $18 apiece.
"Years ago there wasn't any competition," said Pat Johner, vice president in charge of linens and housekeeping. "Now it's like a hotel; people shop around for a hospital. Our idea is to get people to return to the medical center because of the comfort they feel here."
To enhance the image created by the new gowns, Johner said, the hospital has also added similarly colored carpets, drapes, food trays and linens. Most of the patients interviewed on a recent morning at the hospital said they found the results pleasing.
"The colors are a big help," said Marilyn Dillon, 64, a Garden Grove resident in for a quadruple heart bypass. "It makes you feel good, like you're not in a hospital."
Said David James Lane, a 45-year-old RTD instructor being treated for a heart attack: "I think the gowns are perfect. If you had a good pair of shades you could wear them on the street and feel proud."