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A New Direction

The Compass system by Herman Miller Healthcare helps to chart a new course for the design of patient rooms and other health care spaces.

By Janet Wiens

The Compass system by Herman Miller Healthcare helps to chart a new course for the design of patient rooms and other health care spaces.

A compass points an individual in the right direction, helping them to stay on course. In much the same way, the Compass™ system by Herman Miller Healthcare, a division of Herman Miller, Inc., which was developed in collaboration with Gianfranco Zaccai, points to a new direction in the design of health care spaces.

"We are very bullish on the health care market, and we identified many needs regarding the design of multiple spaces," says Kent Gawart, chief operating officer of Nemschoff, a Herman Miller Healthcare subsidiary. "We didn't want to step away from the opportunity to do something special."

Gawart and other company officials identified a key issue as they analyzed the design of health care facilities and their accompanying equipment and furniture. Their research focused on changing technology and its impact on nurse/caregiver efficiency. At the heart of their awareness was a focus on the power of individual spaces and improving the experience for patients, their families and the staff caring for them.

"We looked at what touches a room, including work processes, cleaning protocols and the care that is given," Gawart says. "We wanted to create a system with the flexibility to accommodate changes in technology, patient census and acuity levels on a floor."

Compass is designed for use in patient rooms, ambulatory and critical care areas, emergency rooms and caregiver work environments. The modular system features interchangeable components that can be easily assembled, removed or reconfigured, including surface storage, tile widths, wardrobes, sinks and lighting. The system's intelligent infrastructure manages utilities that are pre-piped/pre-wired, stubbed out or chased from the ceiling. Rather than sitting on the floor, all components are mounted on tiles that attach to the walls. This arrangement means that housekeeping staff can easily clean under all components.

"The Compass platform can grow over time," says Joel Van Wyk, director of product management for Herman Miller Healthcare. "We don't know all the factors that will drive changes in the delivery of health care services in the future. In our opinion, Compass will enable providers to find solutions to design challenges that have not yet been identified."

Van Wyk states that the attention to detail in the line illustrates Herman Miller's commitment to the health care market. One example is the design of Compass' overlapping tiles, which minimize the potential for liquids to seep behind the tiles. Durawrap, which is used to wrap the surfaces and tiles, is also seamless and requires no edge bands, which prevents liquids from seeping into the interiors of drawers and cabinets.

"We will continue to learn from our customers," says Van Wyk. "We will make enhancements and add capabilities to the line based on their input. Our customers' investment will not be obsolete in five years because the components we offer will evolve as their needs change."

Gianfranco Zaccai, Compass' designer and principal at Continuum, a design consultancy based in Boston, Mass., has partnered with Herman Miller before. "The company's health care strategy of 'do well by doing good' resonates with me," he says. "The collaboration was successful because all team members believe in great aesthetics, ergonomics and in providing products that facilitate human interaction."

Zaccai points out that extensive research took place before design began and that some team members brought their own experiences as hospitalized patients and/or caregivers to the table. He believes that team members developed a sense of empathy for individuals who have a stake in the design and actual use of health care facilities. This sense ultimately fostered the design of a system that is aesthetically pleasing, economical and very flexible.

"Ninety percent of all U.S. hospitals were built in the past," Zaccai says. "Compass is an ideal solution for health care environments—from those that were constructed decades ago to new facilities that will be built in the next two to three years."

He agrees with Gawart and Van Wyk that flexibility is one of the system's strengths. "Compass facilitates planning and is easy to install or repurpose as the needs within a facility change. Designers can use different pieces and colors to economically create many different looks."

Individual components are constructed from wood, steel, plastic or aluminum. Eight standard Durawrap finishes are available in both wood grain and solid finishes. Work surfaces come in 15 Corian colors. Customers may also work with Herman Miller professionals to develop custom treatments.

Herman Miller's commitment to sustainability is reflected in Compass, which is comprised of 58 percent recycled materials (6 percent post-consumer and 52 percent pre-consumer recycled content). System components are up to 37 percent recyclable at the end of their useful life, and the product is GREENGUARD certified as a low-emitting product. More information on Compass' environmental features is available from Herman Miller.

"Compass enables users to design environments that are welcoming, that offer a better experience for patients and health care professionals, and that can help to drive down the cost of health care," Zaccai says. "The system meets the needs of the marketplace on multiple levels."

Janet Wiens is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She was formerly a marketing manager for HNTB and now works with industry clients to address their marketing and public relations needs. She can be reached at