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Hospital patients paying big bucks for hospital luxury

DALLAS (AP) _ Byron and Marsha Hooper agreed that the birth of their first child deserved a hospital room with all the extras: high-speed internet, two flat screen TVs and plenty of space.

``I've been real comfortable,'' said 38-year-old Byron Hooper as he surfed the Web, his newborn son sleeping nearby and his wife resting in her bed.

They considered the extra $250 a night for the 740-square-foot suite at Medical City Dallas Hospital worth it.

``The main reason was so we could have our own TVs,'' said Marsha Hooper, glancing at the 20-inch flat screen above her bed. Her husband commandeered the 50-inch flat screen in the living room area for sports.

Medical City is among hospitals across the nation adding a little VIP treatment for those willing to pay extra.

``They've been popping up probably since the late 1990s,'' said Rick Wade, spokesman for the American Hospital Association, which has 4,800 member hospitals.

Luxury suites are usually in major teaching hospitals, and hospitals located in areas with wealthy clienteles. A boom in hospital construction has also inspired some institutions to add luxury suites as they rebuild.

In New York City, Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan offers amenities in 17 luxury rooms including marble bathrooms, unrestricted visiting hours and a refrigerator, spokeswoman Elizabeth Dowling said.

Roosevelt's accommodations range from a standard luxury room, at $350 a day over what insurance pays for a typical hospital room, to a deluxe suite for an extra $700 a day. The amenities are the same for the different suites, but the square footage ranges from 243 to 340 square feet.

David Masini, assistant vice president of administration for Roosevelt Hospital, said the key benefits are 24-hour visitation and accommodations for family members to sleep over.

``We do have a lot of people from out of town and it helps them avoid the inconvenience and expense of getting hotel rooms,'' Masini said.

If patients don't opt for the extra luxury, they can request a private room. Otherwise, they share a room with one to three other people, Dowling said.

Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky., added its 14 luxury rooms in 1999, said Barbara Mackovic, a hospital spokeswoman. For an additional $200 a day, perks of staying at the Trager Pavilion include valet parking, concierge services, Internet access and a fax machine in the 380-square-foot suite.

``We felt like there was a need for it in Louisville,'' said Mackovic, who added that the hospital, which otherwise offers private or semiprivate rooms throughout, gets patients from all over the world. ``We thought that we could fill a need that's not being fulfilled.''

Shawn Bishop, nurse manager for the Trager Pavilion, said patients who stay there range from plastic surgery patients to orthopedic patients.

``I don't feel like we exclude anybody _ for a lot of people, it's affordable,'' said Keith Inman, executive director of Jewish Hospital Foundation.
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