Designers Address Growing Community Responsibility

Healthcare facilities designers are looking to improve buildings for everyone in the community.

By Mackenna Moralez, associate editor

Healthcare architecture has largely stood apart from its counterparts – and for good reason. Designs have had to be more considerate and responsive to the physical, social and cultural context of the building. Knowing that the goal is to create a responsive and meaningful patient experience from the beginning allows designers to create a product that will last for generations to come. Healthcare Facilities Today talks with Beau Herr, principal for Healthcare with CRTKL, on how designers have a greater responsibility to the greater community and how they are looking to improve facilities for everyone involved. 

HFT: Oftentimes designers prioritize the wellness of potential patients, leaving staff rooms to be windowless windows. Why do you think staff members get overlooked in this way? 

Beau Herr: Although designing healthcare facilities with patients in mind is essential, staff members should never be overlooked. Emerging from the pandemic, we must consider the physical and mental state of the practitioners on the frontlines. Happier staff members lead to more positive patient experiences and care, and designing spaces with staff wellness in mind increases the probability of less staff burnout. Designs prioritizing staff wellness include lounges strategically built on the exterior of the building, allowing for clear views of nature, as well as areas for mental and emotional restoration, such as outdoor lounging spaces and staff gardens. 

Design should consider all persons within the healthcare setting equally. There should not be a design distinction that enhances a served and servant ethos where staff are separate and deemed part of the tools necessary to ‘heal’ patients. Instead, there should be a holistic view towards the healing environment so the wellbeing of the staff directly influences and affects the care they give to the patients. This points to a synergistic approach to the totality of any given healthcare environment in more simple terms of design: treat others as you would want to be treated. 

HFT: Why do you think the expectations of healthcare facilities are changing? How are designers addressing this change? 

Herr: The last decade has represented a shift towards patient empowerment, only accelerated by the global pandemic. Advancements in technology, primarily due to the introduction of tech start-ups in healthcare, have given patients access to a vast amount of information and data, allowing them to make more informed decisions about their health as well as their service providers. 

While Baby Boomers and Gen Xers still receive their care in more traditional ways, younger generations prioritize their wellbeing and self-care. This move away from sick care has opened the door to an exploding wellness industry, one that includes a variety of health and wellness-related products and services reinforcing the idea of the consumer over the patient. The consumerization of health is a growing trend, and designers and architects must turn to other consumer-focused markets to inspire design. 

The advent of integrated practice units (IPU) pointed to a new way of conceiving the provision of healthcare as a more holistic endeavor. To address a patient’s needs more effectively, it was determined the provider needed to access a deeper reservoir of knowledge that could not be achieved using a traditional top-down approach. This approach spoke about the need to understand the greater context to better address the more specific manifestations exhibited by the patient. More importantly, without an understanding of the greater context risks, patients risk a repeating cycle of treatment methodologies that are too symptom specific and not problem solving. Healthcare that re-embraces community can draw upon all aspects of living as a solution. This approach recognizes the interconnected and cumulative effects of the world on one’s health and wellbeing. 

HFT: What sustainable options do designers have to help ensure building longevity? What other materials can be used? 

Herr: It is important to invest in quality design materials from the beginning. By utilizing materials that age well and do not need to be replaced every 5-10 years, designers will sustainably avoid having to re-purchase materials in the future. For example, it is no accident that brick is a time-honored building material that is inseparably tied to its social and cultural context. Brick persists because it lasts. This is not to say innovative technologies and methodologies should be shunned. Instead, they should consider and offer solutions that answer relevant problems. As with the planning of healthcare facilities, sustainability is another facet of a more holistic and synergistic approach to design in both time and space. 

Mackenna Moralez is the associate editor for the facilities market. 

January 26, 2023

Topic Area: Construction , Interior Design , Renovations

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