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Getting It Right Through Research

By Robert Nieminen

I recently stumbled upon this video of Michael Graves discussing his various experiences and frustrations with healthcare facilities after becoming paralyzed in 2003, and I was struck by his statement suggesting “there’s no excuse for getting those patient rooms wrong, time after time after time.”

Having wheeled himself into the bathroom in one particular rehabilitation center, he quickly discovered that the faucet handle was out of reach, as was his toothbrush, toothpaste and even the electrical socket for his electric razor, which was near the floor at the base of the wall.

“They didn’t make big mistakes,” he said in a December 2011 article on “They just made the most frustrating mistakes you could ever imagine and made your cure more difficult. Your room should make it easier for the doctors and the aides and the patient. But instead it does just the opposite.”

The dreadful irony here is that we’re talking about healthcare facilities—the very places you’d expect, if not demand, to be functional and accommodating of occupants. Perhaps even more damning (though he reportedly quipped about it at the 2011 TEDMED conference) was Graves’ comment on the aesthetics of one of these flawed spaces: “It’s far too ugly for me to die here.”

Graves has been championing the field of healthcare design ever since his paralysis, channeling his frustrations into building better hospitals and furnishings. And given the inroads that evidence-based design has made in recent years, with design strategies such as increased access to daylighting, decentralized nursing stations and single-patient rooms becoming commonplace, healthcare facilities are now more functional and aesthetically pleasing for both patients and staff.

This month, we take a look at the trends and facilities that are leading the way into the future of healthcare. In his feature article, “Satellite Recovery," Managing Editor Adam Moore reports that decentralized nursing’s “well-noted effects on patient and staff well-being have already made it a near-standard, not only among healthcare designers but hospital officials as well.” However, many hospitals are now relying on a hybrid design that blends satellite stations with a central, but smaller, nurse hub, he writes. This change allows staff to collaborate and socialize, addressing concerns among some nurses that decentralization leaves them feeling disconnected and isolated from their co-workers.

This shift in the design of nurses’ stations would not be possible without research that can prove invaluable in creating effective healing spaces. To that point, a 2006 study by Dr. Anjali Joseph for the Center for Health Design found that light impacts outcomes in healthcare settings by reducing depression among patients, decreasing length of stay in hospitals, improving sleep cycles, lessening agitation among dementia patients, easing pain, and improving adjustment to night-shift work among staff.

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Interiors & Sources® is dedicated to the advancement of the commercial interior design profession. It connects design professionals with the projects, products, firms and associations that shape the built environment and promotes the value of design services in the creation of functional, sustainable and aesthetically-pleasing environments. Each issue delivers relevant and timely information that equips design practitioners with the knowledge and tools necessary to reach design excellence in their own practices. Editorial ideas and contributions are welcome from all members of the design industry.
It’s no wonder then that the design team at Francis Cauffman utilized a combination of natural and artificial light in the recent expansion of St. Joseph’s Health System’s (SJHS) medical center in Patterson, N.J., one of our featured photo essays. Floor-to-ceiling glass in every patient room ensures that daylight penetrates deep into the space, to the point that the design team noticed in subsequent visits that staff and patients don’t use as much artificial light, resulting in significant energy savings.

Another report issued by the Facility Guidelines Institute found numerous benefits associated with single-patient rooms, including improvements in patient care, a reduction in the risk of cross infection and greater flexibility in operation, as revealed in this month’s EnvironDesign Notebook column. The study also describes benefits in privacy/noise abatement, support for patient-centered care, fewer room-to-room transfers, flexibility with adaptable acuity and spatial separation to mitigate cross-transmission of pathogens.

Similarly, the Willson Hospice House—the focus of a new, quick-hitting project feature we’ve titled “Also Seen”—is designed to feel more like a friendly village than a treatment center, and is organized into three pods, each comprised of six private rooms grouped around a family living room. Designed to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards, it is the only healthcare facility ever to be designated an Audubon International Silver Signature Sanctuary, creating an ecological oasis for the local community. (Be sure to log on to our website to read the full story.)

With inspiring projects and research findings like these, it’s hard to argue against the current trends in healthcare—a fact I’m sure even Michael Graves can be happy about.