The opening of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center 10 years ago marked a turning point in health care for the region and remains a cause for celebration.
Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center has turned 10 years old. The opening of this new hospital – and UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and the Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA – on June 29, 2008, was a singular event in the history of UCLA Health and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, one that launched a new era for patient care and medical research. But for all of its grand scale and cutting-edge technology, the heart of this facility is its humanity.
Before I turned to a career in science and medicine, I entertained thoughts of becoming an architect. It is no wonder, then, that the words of an architectural talent as brilliant as I.M. Pei, who, with his son C.C. Pei, was instrumental in the design of our new medical complex, resonate so profoundly with me. He said: “What is the true impact of space and light and nature on wellness? The principle objective is to create an environment of healing.”
“Environment of healing.” I have worked and spent time in many hospitals in many different places over the past 40-plus years, and nowhere do those words ring as true as they do here, at UCLA. When you enter Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, no matter what is going on, there is an immediate sense of calm because it is so open and bright — an air of serenity that does not exist in other large hospital settings. A hospital can be a disorienting place, but here there are large windows and light and open views from just about everywhere, including from the patient rooms.
On the day of the move, when it was all over, I returned to the Center for the Health Sciences, the old hospital building where I trained and worked – days, nights, weekends and holidays for decades – and I spent an hour taking pictures of everything. I will sometimes look at those pictures today; the contrast between then and now is startling.
Apart from the building itself, it sometimes can be something as seemingly small as having staff wear standardized uniforms that makes a big difference in a patient’s comfort level. The simple act of showing respect by requiring every caregiver to first ask permission before entering a patient’s room and then to introduce him- or herself and explain why they are there recognizes the humanity of the patient. Having different banks of elevators for different functions — visitor and staff elevators are separated from patient, service and transport elevators – helps to calm what otherwise can be a tumultuous environment. None of that was the case in the old UCLA Medical Center.
And people often don’t recognize that all of this — the public and patient-care spaces, the infrastructure, the technology — must be packaged within a structure that not only is designed and built to withstand time, but also must be strong and resilient enough to operate in the face of unexpected events — earthquake, fire, punishing weather, horrible accidents or other devastating disasters. A hospital is an anchor for public safety — once our doors have opened, as they did 10 years ago, they can never close. We must function, no matter what happens. We also are a place where individuals and their families come for care; thus, we cannot appear to be a fortress within the heart of the community.
Pei’s son, C.C., took his father’s words a step further. The architects’ goal for Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and the Mattel and Resnick hospitals was, he said, “to create an environment that is cheerful, inspirational and intimate ... to design an environment for people, not just machines.” I think the goal of I.M. and C.C. Pei and everyone else who was involved in the enterprise of designing, building and launching this extraordinary hospital has been achieved.
Happy 10th birthday to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center!
John C. Mazziotta, MD (RES '81, FEL '83), PhD
Vice Chancellor, UCLA Health Sciences
CEO, UCLA Health