building in flexibility
Flexibility and the ability to adapt a space to new needs may not be explicitly required by the ACA, but as the demands on our healthcare system continue to increase, it will become more and more critical.
“In order to design a facility that will serve patients and staff today as well as in the future, it is important to incorporate as much flexibility into the design as possible,” Larsen says. “Demographics, technology, and disease management may all change how hospitals will treat patients in the future. For example, in designing the New Parkland Hospital, a county hospital for the city of Dallas, we don’t know what imaging technology will look like in 50 years. As a way to anticipate the need for change, we recessed the floor on the imaging department. As equipment changes, the hospital has the flexibility to expand by removing the topping slab as required to install shielding.”
Not all flexibility enhancements need to be so drastic; Donner cites a recent project in which they created modular nursing stations, so that as the hospital’s situation changes, the stations can be easily (and inexpensively) reconfigured to meet its new needs.
READ: Get more resources for the coming changes in healthcare design at the Inside Sources blog.
Of course, while hospitals and clinics want flexibility for the future, they also want solutions to be efficient for their current needs. The trick for designers will be finding the middle ground between those two desires.
“We are being asked to put more in less, if you will, making everything so much more efficient,” explains Donner. “The steps that a nurse takes from the nurse’s station to the patient room to the nutrition room—everything is so much more efficient for their staff and way more efficient in terms of square footage.”
Kylie Wroblaski is a former editor for BUILDINGS magazine, and has written previously about architecture and facilities management.