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A Positive Prognosis for Health Design

By Robert Nieminen

Robert Nieminen, Editor

Robert Nieminen,

A few weeks ago prior to my writing this editorial, my mother was admitted to the hospital after suffering from a potentially life-threatening stroke. Words seem to fail when a loved one is laid up in a hospital bed and the news from the doctors and nurses is uncertain. In those moments of helplessness, when prayer, faith and hope become as tangible as the hospital room in which you are standing, there is little we seem able to do to ease their pain and suffering. (Thankfully, she has recovered very well and is now home, I am pleased to report.)

One of the recurring thoughts I recall having, other than the medical questions I had for the staff and the existential ones I asked of God, was simply this: what can I possibly do to make my mother feel more comfortable? Having looked up at the window in the dark ICU room, and noticing that the blinds were closed shut midday, I was reminded of the research conducted through evidence-based design (EBD) projects connecting daylight and views to the outdoors with patient healing, so I promptly opened them. Hearing her complaints of feeling cold and hiding beneath the covers, I asked the nurses to adjust the temperature of the room. It wasn't much, but it was something—anything—I could do to make myself useful.

Though my own comfort was not top of mind, I also noticed both the ICU and her patient room lacked many design considerations for family members or visitors (ample areas for sitting or sleeping were sorely lacking). Unlike the beautiful and functional health care projects featured in this issue, where patient-centered and EBD strategies were utilized, I found myself huddled with my family in a non-descript waiting room or in the corner of the ICU with iPads and smartphones in hand, researching the medical terms communicated to us by the staff and exploring treatment options.

Although we did not have access to the deinstitutionalized health care facilities we are seeing designed and built today, such as The Methodist Hospital in Houston, one of our featured photo essays, I'm comforted by the fact that designers are now at the forefront of the field. As Viveca Bissonnette, president of IIDA, writes in her Forum article, "Health care design—far from following the trend—is actually leading the way in design. With evidence-based and generative design making huge leaps and bounds in the health care environment, what was once a trend is now a way of life." She goes on to say that the key members of the design team have expanded to include facility managers and hospital staff, and they approach each project from a patient- and staff-centered point of view.

I'm also encouraged by the notion that evidence-based design and sustainability do not need to be mutually exclusive goals when designing a health care project, as argued by Jeff Gatzow in this issue's Commentary article and as demonstrated by the opening of the new Arlington Free Clinic, in which a team from Perkins+Will, led by National Interior Design Healthcare Leader Tama Duffy Day, employed both design strategies to help the facility achieve LEED Gold certification.

"Typically, projects with stated sustainability and evidence-based design goals were often replete with decisions requiring one goal to be prioritized over the other," writes Gatzow, a project manager for Everbrite Lighting. "However, these no longer need to be mutually exclusive. In fact, working in tandem will bring out the best in both."

In the case of the Arlington Free Clinic, the staff can attest to the positive results of giving equal weight to EBD and sustainability goals. As I&S Managing Editor Adam Moore reports, in a post-occupancy survey of staff, 100 percent agreed that the new clinic space is light-filled and uplifting; 79 percent thought that more community activities and education will occur as a result of its new conference space; and 72 percent agreed that the new space "inspires health."

Lastly, be sure to check out our cover story on the new Chaum Center in Seoul, South Korea, a prototype lifestyle destination for a health care delivery system that necessitated and inspired a radically altered medical environment—one that has the medical community around the world abuzz. With innovative spaces like this on the horizon, the prognosis for the health care industry is looking very promising indeed.