Luxury Hospital Rooms of the Rich and Famous

Penthouse wings for the wealthy can lead to bed shortages for ordinary patients. Is that fair?

Take away the nurses, doctors and medical equipment, and most hospitals resemble YMCAs -- loud and bright and riddled with sick, germy people.

If that weren’t bad enough, you’re forced to wear a gown that allows the stranger in the bed beside you -- as well as all of her bored and gawking visitors -- to check out your heinie every time you get up to use the john. For many, the motivation to get better is solely driven by the desire to get out of the hospital as quickly as possible.

Unless, that is, you’re one of the uber-rich patients -- excuse me, clientele -- who chooses to stay in an ultra-luxe suite for an extra $450 to $3,700 a night (that's out-of-pocket, sometimes in cash, on top of whatever base rate insurance pays the hospital). According to a story in The New York Times, hospitals are dedicating more and more space to private, plush rooms that more closely resemble those of a destination spa than a recovery ward. As one woman who awoke in the new penthouse wing of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital described it to The Times, she thought she was at the Four Seasons. Her room was outfitted with luxury Italian bed linens, a personal butler, and a bathroom “that gleamed with polished marble.”

It's the kind of VIP suite Beyonce and husband Jay-Z stayed in during the birth of their daughter. And, it’s a striking contrast to the usual patient, who often has less-than-optimal health insurance, and may struggle to finance -- or even go bankrupt over -- an unexpected, bare-bones hospital stay.

I can see how this cash flow might benefit financially-strapped hospitals, who face their own struggles with health insurance companies as well as federal funding cuts. I’d like to think that the money coming into the hospital from rich patients gets trickled down to the ordinary patients, in the form of better amenities and care. But as The New York Times article points out, while it might bring in the dough, it also steals precious space from over-packed metropolitan hospitals, forcing more patients to double up even though “singles are now the national standard for infection control and quicker recovery.” According to the story, one patient was forced to stay in the emergency room for three days, because there were no beds available. Meanwhile, the Saudi king had use of the entire 14th floor.

I can understand the wealthy patient’s desire for comfort and privacy when feeling their worst. I mean, who wouldn’t want that? If I were hospital-ridden and a high roller, I’d likely plunk down my credit card for the luxury, too. If these posh suites can help hospitals provide the rest of their patients with the quality care they deserve, then I support it -- even if the inequity does make me sick.

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