On Tuesday, May 22, the new, state-of-the-art, $447 million hospital will make its much-anticipated debut on the northbound side of Route 1. Ads for the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro (abbreviated UMCPP) boast being both by the people and for the people, and that’s not just sales talk.
The new hospital’s vice president for construction and facilities, Pamela Garbini, right, is a Plainsboro resident who can walk to work, but for now she’s moving at bullet speed to get every aspect of the new facility synchronized. Her job is similar to conducting an orchestra in that the new hospital has integrated scores of unique instruments, from its crescent design and open layout to an abundance of user-oriented technology, 1,600 employees, 1,555 parking spaces (plus valet parking), as well as new signalized intersections on the roads leading to it.
“My primary role is to serve as the major liaison point and decision-facilitator for the hospital staff. I tell people I’m like the eye of the hurricane because during construction I’ve facilitated all the information exchange between the architects, the engineers, the contractors, the local code officials, and at the same time our staff — doctors, nurses, users, and department heads. Every one of our 93 discrete departments in the hospital has a vested interest in how they are going to do their job in this building versus how they do their jobs now,” Garbini says.
The challenge of being the point of synergy “for everybody’s thoughts” leads Garbini to explain how architects and engineers’ drawings and conversations are being translated into tangible results.
“I’m changing channels in my head on a dime. From specific and technical engineering discussions to ‘I need to explain this to the nursing manager’ so you’ve got to keep people engaged and focused,” she says.
Speaking from the new cancer center at the curved building’s front right corner, Garbini says the new hospital’s complexity provides a consistent challenge.
“It’s constant translation, and you factor in the people. The CEO is looking at things from a 50,000-foot view. The needs of the users — the clinical staff — are very different from information that architects and engineers need, very different from contractors, from vendors. You have to constantly be thinking who am I communicating with, what do they need from me, what do I need from them,” she says.
“Sometimes I feel like the performer in the circus spinning the plates, and I’ve got to keep all the plates going. Sometimes I feel like the lion-tamer, and sometimes I feel like the ringmaster. It’s a little bit of everything,” she said.
Unique methods of preparation were even implemented by UMCPP’s human resources department. From early to mid-April a scavenger hunt for employees was held to help familiarize personnel with the locations of items and utilities in the 636,000-square-foot building. Coinciding with this effort, on Wednesday, April 18, UMCPP hosted an exercise called “day in the life” for 350 employees.
Garbini says scripted scenarios “like a mini-play in each department” were carried out. The objective was testing personnel while also testing the whole building. For example, if someone comes to the emergency department and they need blood taken for lab testing, nurses need to take a vial and put it in the hospital’s pneumatic tube system, then push the speed dial button for the vial to “zip over.”
“We need to make sure it arrives at the lab because if your pneumatic tube system doesn’t work, it might arrive in the pharmacy. These drills were very scripted — it’s not for ad-libbing. In another scenario, someone comes in and they’re complaining of chest pains, so we tested our response to that,” Garbini said.
After “day in the life” came the hospital’s “mock move” on Tuesday, April 24. All PHCS senior leadership pretended to be patients, and Garbini played a pediatric patient for the exercise, having to be transported from the pediatric building at the Witherspoon Street hospital in Princeton to the new building by ambulance. She says all elements of the route such as traffic, trip times, and whether doors open as planned are analyzed.
Another day in the life exercise is planned in early May. “We’re always doing one more thing,” she said.
Garbini may have been referencing her own career in design and construction management. Her mother was a homemaker who later become a social worker for the state of Pennsylvania. Her father kept a creative spirit, as he was a violinist who also worked in a bank. The oldest of five children, she earned a specialized five-year bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from Penn State.
Garbini describes her collegiate study as primarily an engineering degree with construction management as well as some architecture and design elements.
In college Garbini found love on personal and professional fronts. She married a mechanical engineer who was in her program and started her career by working on large projects for Gilbane Building Company for close to 25 years. Throughout her career she has managed designers, architects, and engineers, and also spent time in facilities “working with users” at Columbia University Medical Center.
“Every job I’ve ever done in my life had given me the experience to be right here doing this,” Garbini says.
After graduating from Penn State Garbini went to work for Gilbane in Providence, Rhode Island. Five years later she was transferred to the company’s Princeton office. She says that relocating here was, much like her current work situation, coming close to home because she grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Notable projects that Garbini worked on with Gilbane included the Hyatt Regency on Route 1 as well as a number of hospitals, including Overlook Hospital in Summit, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital (now Trinitas), and Jersey City Medical Center.
After Gilbane, Garbini went to work for Bovis Lend Lease in West Windsor. Garbini’s next stop was Lawrenceville and CUH2A, which is now HDR — a Nebraska-based architecture and design firm with 7,800 professionals and a specialty in healthcare.
Next and most recently came Columbia Medical Center. Garbini was always a big fan of New York City and its architecture. “I like the volume of buildings, looking at the details and how things were put together. I love New York, and I’m one of those people who walks around the city looking straight up,” she says.
She commuted on the train from Princeton Junction. “It was crazy because I would drive by to go to the train station and say ‘there’s the hospital and I’m not building it’ — that’s so unfair,” she said.
Volunteering at the current hospital in Princeton helped Garbini get the position she is in today. She used to help organize the annual Hospital Fete, fundraisers that were held each June until recently. “It was interesting because I met many of the people before I actually worked here. I was a comfortable person for several people who said ‘oh I know her’ once I was hired.
Garbini joined the project in early 2010, right as construction started. The foundations were in and the steel was half-done at that point. “The thought was that the hospital had hired consultants for everything — program manager, construction manager, architect, engineer. We had all these people but there needed to be a single point of triage and communication,” she said.
She says the board looked at the project with all these consultants involved and decided to have “one of their own” provide an on-site presence to keep an eye on everything. She says at the height of construction there were more than 500 workers in one place.
Garbini reports the goings-on of the site, the building and process of integrating personnel directly to Barry Rabner, CEO of PHCS. Leading to the job, it was Rabner who called her up, asking to meet with her about something.
She says that when he spoke to her about the position, she was shocked because she thought everything was in place already. Her first comment to him was “wait a minute, you want me to work a mile from my house?” She describes the chance as right place, right time, and right skill set.
“I think volunteering gave me name recognition, but it was one of the best things I did because it gave me a skill set I did not have before. In all of the jobs I had, people did stuff because I was supervising them and they had to; with volunteers you have to inspire. To get volunteers to work together you have inspire them because they don’t have to be there. You need to be inspirational, and if you learn how to do that, you can get people to do anything,” Garbini says.
“We’re a good team because he’s very visionary and I’m in the weeds. Sometimes you need to lift your head up out of the weeds and watch what’s going on. I’m the eyes and ears here, into every little detail.” Garbini knows the new facility in and out, referencing its 9,700 light fixtures, 432 bathrooms, and more than 1,000 doors as starting points on her checklist.
In Plainsboro, Garbini lives at Walker Gordon Farms and says she lives right around the corner from WW-P board of education member Rachelle Hurwitz, recently elected board member Yibao Xu, as well as outgoing board member Todd Hochman.
Garbini moved to Plainsboro in 1999. The family lived in Basking Ridge and South Plainfield before, but the Garbinis were sending their daughter, Grace, to private school there. The couple decided to find a location with good public schools, and one of Garbini’s friends who taught in the West Windsor-Plainsboro district lobbied hard for them to come here. Then work commitments fell into place as her and her husband’s employers both had offices in the area.
The Garbinis’ daughter attended Maurice Hawk Elementary, Upper Elementary School, Grover Middle School, and graduated from High School South in 2010. When her daughter was younger Garbini was active in the PTA and the Girl Scouts.
Like mom and dad, Grace Garbini ultimately chose to attend Penn State, where she is majoring in horticultural science. Her mother chuckled, saying it was a reluctant pick. “She was going to go anywhere but Penn State, but after she looked at all her schools, she visited Happy Valley for two days and it was a good fit,” Garbini said.
While it did not directly apply to her daughter’s college choice, one workplace skill Garbini spoke about is motivating people to make decisions. “Sometimes through gentle guiding, or sometimes you’ve got to be firmer. You really have to keep people on-task, on-time, and on-budget while maintaining your own focus,” she says.
With the hospital, her career, her family, and the Plainsboro community, Garbini has proven to be a person who moves things forward.
On Saturday, May 12, from noon to 6 p.m., the hospital will be hosting its open house for anyone who would like a walk-through tour and information about the facility. UMCPP anticipates as many as 10,000 people, and shuttle buses will be running between parking on College Road East and the hospital.
The front of the building, facing Plainsboro Road, will have a sign reading “Atkinson Pavilion,” commemorating a $25 million donation from David and Patricia Atkinson, formerly of West Windsor — the largest individual donation ever to a New Jersey hospital.
Hospital Passes Fire Drill
Scott Kivet, commissioner in charge of personnel with the Plainsboro Fire District, said the mutual aid drill staged at the new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro on Tuesday, April 24, was carried out flawlessly. Fire companies from Plainsboro, Princeton, West Windsor, Kingston, Kendall Park, East Windsor, Cranbury, Monmouth Junction, and Applegarth (Monroe fire district Number 2) were all present, and no logistical problems were recorded.
While he initially had concerns, particularly due to the scale of the project, Kivet said he could not be more satisfied with the hospital’s progress in safety precautions.
“The hospital has done a fantastic job working with us. They have been more than cooperative with accommodating emergency services, specifically with communications and staging of emergency apparatus. They have been very safety conscious all the time,” Kivet said.
Kivet says that while the fire trucks were en route to the hospital there was open communication on both sides. “The Plainsboro OEM worked great with hospital security. The fire company now has a transmitter frequency so that when we get a fire call, we call over to security to update them on which engine is arriving at the hospital,” he said.
Kivet says that Plainsboro fire officials are not so worried about the new hospital possibly burning down in the event of a fire because, he says, it has “the best sprinkler system out there.” According to Kivet, the chief concerns for fire personnel responding to calls at the hospital would be evacuating and moving non-ambulatory patients, containment of a fire within a particular area, and salvaging equipment.