2009 Hospital of the Year winner: Rainy days, sunny outlook


Hurricane Ike tried to take down this practice just months after it was built. But Westbury Animal Hospital in Houston weathered the storm and became our 2009 Hospital of the Year.

Westbury Animal Hospital had been open for barely six months when the winds picked up and the rain started to pour. As Hurricane Ike made its way through the Texas Gulf Coast, Drs. Ben Johnston, L.D. Eckermann, and Jonathan Cooper wondered what the storm would mean for their practice, located in the heart of Houston. As it turns out, they needn't have worried—Westbury Animal Hospital was built for this sort of thing.

Exterior: The owners of Westbury Animal Hospital undertook a challenging construction project, adding a new building to the practice's original facility.

That's because the doctors had the foresight to install a 130-kilowatt natural-gas-powered emergency generator to power all patient care and housing areas, computers, and telephones. When the storm hit Houston, leaving Westbury's neighborhood without power for 12 days, the air-conditioned hospital was a haven for clients worried about their overheated pets. Some team members even volunteered to work long hours, helping manage the additional caseload. "It was a tough month for Houston, but financially it was a great month for our practice," Dr. Johnston says.

After surviving the hurricane, the practice soon faced another tough challenge: the 2009 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition. Our judges scrutinized 39 entries over a grueling two-day judging period, and while there was plenty of debate and lively discussion, Westbury Animal Hospital rose above the competition, emerging as the clear winner.

Surgery: Each surgery suite features an adjustable height and tilt table, a stainless steel pass-through from the pack and prep area, interior windows so team members can view surgeries from outside the room, and electrical, oxygen, and waste gas scavenging ceiling drops.


Much of Westbury's successful design can be attributed to a laborious planning process. Drs. Johnston and Eckermann decided in 1995 that they needed a new building, but they hesitated to take action. The neighborhood surrounding the practice was declining rapidly, and they weren't sure whether to stay put or scout out a new location. So they continued practicing in the original facility—built in 1968—while they weighed their options.

In 2001 a flood ravaged the area, destroying many houses. And over the next few years the neighborhood began to turn around, thanks in part to the construction of lavish new houses to replace those damaged by the flood. Westbury's close proximity to Texas Medical Center, one of the largest medical districts in the world, also helps the practice attract medical professionals as clients. This neighborhood revitalization convinced the doctors to stay where they were and build a new hospital. Construction crews broke ground in October 2006. And in March 2008, the practice opened its brand-new doors.

Westbury Animal Hospital


Getting to opening day wasn't exactly a walk in the park. The day of the groundbreaking, the clouds opened up and rain started pouring. And it didn't let up. The area received more than 14 inches of rain that month alone and more than 90 inches over the next 18 months. All the precipitation pushed back the completion date by six months.

Hospitality bar: The practice offers free gourmet coffee and tea, cookies, and bottled water to clients while they wait. The bar features a granite countertop and stainless steel sink, and the area offers a view of the landscaped courtyard.

The other major snag occurred a month and a half into the construction process, when the project's lead plumber passed away the weekend before the plumbing was to be installed. But the construction crew rallied to finish the job and keep the project on schedule.

Consultation: This room is used for client consultation, patient euthanasia, client visitation with patients, small staff meetings, and staff review meetings. Staff members also slept here during Hurricane Ike.


The final product provided the striking features the owners desired. Clients are greeted in the reception area by a plethora of plants and bright, cheery colors on the walls and furniture. Our judges were particularly impressed with the vast size of the waiting area and the stone wall waterfall behind the reception desk. The doctors also included a separate telephone room to keep front-desk team members focused on face-to-face customer service. "I wanted them to take care of the people in front of them," Dr. Johnston says.

Your chance to win

Perhaps the most improved feature of the new hospital is the central treatment room, which Dr. Johnston calls the "hub of the hospital." This area allows direct access to a variety of treatment rooms, including the dental suite, the special procedures room, surgery pack and prep, surgery suites, the radiology room, and the ICU. Most of these rooms have glass panels in the door to maximize visibility and communication. The treatment room features an electronic whiteboard and is monitored by cameras that can be viewed both onsite and offsite.

2009 Merit Award Winners


Westbury Animal Hospital's floor plan provides plenty of opportunities for expansion. The doctors built the new facility adjoining the old building, giving them extra space for storage and overflow boarding. Dr. Johnston says that once the practice catches up on cash flow, renovating the old facility is a possibility. Additions to that building could include upscale boarding suites, an MRI or CT scan room, and a rehabilitation room with an underwater treadmill.

But it may be difficult for team members to use the old facility again after having moved to the new building. After what Dr. Johnston calls "two months of stress," the team has learned to communicate and find items in the larger, more organized hospital. Traffic also flows much more smoothly, and team members don't have to worry about bottlenecking in treatment areas like in the old building.

This extra room also took some getting used to. "Right after we moved in, I felt like we weren't that busy, but a look at the numbers proved otherwise," Dr. Johnston says. "It's just that people weren't right on top of each other anymore." The extra space helped the practice increase its revenue by nearly 30 percent, its new client base by nearly 75 percent, and its average client transaction by more than 8 percent.

Westbury Animal Hospital's doctors agree: The new facility has streamlined the team's efficiency and proved to be a wise investment in a time when wise investments seem to be few and far between. And because employees enjoy working in a nice facility, staff retention is as high as it's ever been. With help from the neighborhood's turnaround, the practice should be in business for quite some time. "We wanted a future for Westbury Animal Hospital," Dr. Johnston says. "And now we have one."

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