Hospitals designed new facilities with input from their staff and patients

Monday, September 19, 2011
A patient room on the Progressive Care Unit of the Heart Hospital at Saint Francis Medical Center. The headboard hides equipment and ports. (@Cutline - byline:Photo courtesy of Saint Francis Medical Center)

When Saint Francis Medical Center began planning its new Heart Hospital and Cancer Institute, one big question was asked of the doctors, hospital staff and patients: "What would you like to see?" From the high-impact laminate flooring to the durable vinyl chairs, from the blue floors designating nurses stations to the red-painted electrical outlets, every item in the building was placed with a purpose.

"There were some simple suggestions that drove the staff crazy -- like electrical plugs down low and behind stuff. You don't think about that much until you have to do it 15 times a day," says James Wakin, director of nursing at Saint Francis. Staff now have access to several outlets in each room, mounted high and low and even on columns that can be moved throughout the room.

An infusion bay at the Southeast Health Cancer Center. (@Cutline - byline:Photo courtesy of Southeast Health)

Suggestions like these were gathered from employee meetings and surveys, and from face-to-face chats with patients, says Laura Dumey, clinical director of surgical and critical care services at Saint Francis. The idea swap began in February 2008, as soon as the hospital announced it would be adding a new facility. Staffers traveled to other hospitals and even set up mock patient rooms so doctors and nurses could move around the rooms, try out the furniture and share their feedback.

"The architects met with us monthly. They were very respectful of what the staff, physicians and families said they needed or would like to see," says Dumey.

The new facility, which opened in July, has large rooms designed to hold more medical equipment -- and family members. They're also private, though some areas, like the cancer infusion bays, have curtains that can be pulled aside so patients can visit with one another, swapping stories and sharing encouragement about their shared diagnoses. Much of the medical equipment is stashed behind wooden headboards so the rooms feel less like a hospital and more like home. Patients can even adjust the room's lighting, temperature and TV channel; choose to have the window shades up or down; and choose to face toward or away from the window.

"In the older building, the rooms are smaller and semiprivate, and the nurses had to move around the families," says Wakin, adding that "it wouldn't be a normal day if we didn't have to move at least two patients around." The size and setup of the new rooms is good for patients and their families, as well as the doctor-patient relationship, says Wakin. Instead of moving patients and families elsewhere for private discussions, this can happen in the comfort of the patients' own rooms.

"Before, if there was one other person in the room it felt crowded," Wakin adds. "Now you can have four or five people in the room and it doesn't infringe on what the nurse is doing. This is the psychosocial aspect of a patient's healing."

Patient and staff input were also a huge component in designing SoutheastHEALTH's new Cancer Center, which opened in February. The hospital held focus groups and conducted surveys to determine what they wanted in the new space: more privacy, lots of windows and a soothing atmosphere.

"We went to other cancer centers, old and new, to look at their design and patient flow," says Judy Aslin, executive director of the Southeast Cancer Center. "We developed a feeling of calmness. Very specifically, we didn't want it to have a clinical feel, to have that fear and anxiety factor."

Groups of community members, hospital administrators, doctors, nurses and patients divided into groups, each with a different charge -- like choosing artwork for the center, making each patient's experience memorable and organizing training for staff to become familiar with the new facility.

Like Saint Francis, the rooms at Southeast's new center are private, though some have curtains or decorative frosted glass doors that can be opened to other bays. Patients have access to private or community waiting rooms; to TVs and DVDs; and the ability to control the lighting and temperature in their room or bay. The feeling of calmness is a constant theme in the building, with inspirational photos and artwork depicting vibrant landscapes and local landmarks. Each room has an inspirational name as well, so that no one ever has to report to "exam room No. 13," but rather to room prevail, tranquil, believe, super nova or ascent.

The rooms are equipped with sound barriers, benches or chairs for family members, and exam tables that lower to 18 inches -- a request from physicians, because many patients have trouble stepping up to a table when they're sick, says Aslin.

"The buzz in the community was about the weird-shaped building ... but we designed it for the patient experience inside the building," says Aslin. "We wanted to recognize the person, not the disease."

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