Where do you want to have your baby? Your face lift? Your back surgery? Hospital patients who have the luxury of time increasingly have the luxury of choices. As North County's population has grown, so has the potential to check out the hospital you'll be checking into.
In addition to considering the medical advice of their physicians, patients can also evaluate a hospital based on its ambience, its services and its cost. The right hospital might not necessarily be the one closest to home.
North County's five hospitals:
* Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, the area' largest and busiest.
* Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, the area's only trauma center.
* Pomerado Hospital in Poway, attached to a 149-bed skilled nursing facility.
The Pomerado and Palomar hospitals are administered jointly by the Palomar-Pomerado Health System.
* Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas, which says it's putting hospitality back into hospitals.
* Fallbrook Hospital, the area's smallest, but which has managed to produce its own baby boom.
As they scramble to attract and serve patients, the hospitals are offering a variety of new programs and amenities.
If North County's hospitals are becoming more innovative, there is good motivation, according to George Belch, chairman of the marketing department at San Diego State University. "Everybody sees that it's the growth area of San Diego and that the population is somewhat more affluent. Hospitals do strategy planning and market analysis like any corporation."
Like all large institutions, hospitals can be bruised by bad publicity and can be aggressive in seeking good community relations. "It's a competitive environment," said Alain Jourdier, director of communications for the twin Palomar-Pomerado system.
The marketing budget last year for Palomar-Pomerado was $1.5 million--which included money for advertisements, brochures, health fairs and other promotions. Tri-City Medical Center spent around $400,000. Fallbrook's budget for marketing was less than $200,000, and Scripps-Encinitas said it spent $88,000.
Scripps-Encinitas is a private, nonprofit institution, while the other four North County hospitals are public, meaning they were established by the community and are governed by boards elected by district residents in much the same way that school boards are. Local taxes usually provide only a fraction of a multimillion-dollar annual budget. Patient and insurance revenues, plus fund-raising monies, provide the balance.
All of the hospitals have either just completed expansions or have blueprints for growth in the works.
Scripps plans to build a major new medical center in San Marcos. Kaiser Permanente, which operates clinics in Carlsbad and Escondido, is considering construction of a 100-bed hospital somewhere between Escondido and Oceanside.
As the hospitals respond to the growing North County population--one that is, in general, insured rather than indigent--they are striving to distinguish themselves by the quality and quantity of services offered.
TRI-CITY MEDICAL CENTER
4002 Vista Way, Oceanside Calls: 724-8411 Beds: 451 Staff: 2,000
Annual admissions: 18,084
A room service program run by the hospital's 700 auxiliary volunteers will deliver VCRs and videos and even help patients write letters.
Tri-City Medical Center prides itself on providing services like a posh hotel, according to Jennifer Velez, public relations coordinator.
A room service menu may be used by patients or their guests for hamburgers, chocolate chip cookies, herbal teas and other snacks. "Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars and popcorn are most popular," said Velez. "The response has been great and the auxilians are very busy."
So is the emergency room.
With more than 55,000 visits last year, Tri-City's emergency room was the most hectic in the entire county. The 451-bed hospital also chalked up 18,084 admissions and delivered between 400 and 450 new babies each month.
Tri-City offers a cancer center, cardiac care that includes an open-heart surgery unit, a chemical dependency department, a rehabilitation center, a neonatal intensive care unit, and an alternative birthing center among other departments.
Tri-City has more than 2,000 doctors, nurses, administrators, technicians and others on staff. Its yearly payroll is about $87 million.
One of the hospital's more innovative programs is its Day Treatment Center. The center, in a white clapboard house on Horne Street, is not a hospital setting, said Mary Wallace, manager of mental health services.
The center is staffed by a psychiatrist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, occupational therapist and a recreational therapist. It offers comprehensive counseling and a range of activities for those who have suffered a traumatic incident, like the death of a spouse, or who are fighting depression, stress or anxiety, Wallace said.