Additional feedback on children's hospitals design

January 27, 2009 |

Emphasize outdoor space; parent needs

Exterior spaces are an important consideration. A place to "get away” or a view to a well landscaped courtyard certainly adds to the healing environment. Although pediatric patients may not understand the subtleties of sustainable finishes on the interior, views to a green roof or similar element can interest and excite both kids and adults. Let’s also not forget that children are increasingly becoming concerned about the environment, and that we are designing for health and their future.

As designers of pediatric facilities, we should not forget about the needs of the parents. Parents will naturally spend the majority of their time in the child’s patient room. As such, the comments about work space and appropriate sleeping accommodations in the article are on target. As the article also correctly points out, there are more adults in children’s hospitals than there are children. To provide everything at a pediatric scale is a little out of the ordinary. Chances are that the adults will be the users of many components that are normally thought of as being for the kids.

—Keith Smith, AIA, ACHA, managing director, BSA LifeStructures, Indianapolis

Address family and community needs

A breath of fresh air! Away with the gimmicky appliqués that traditionally marked a building as a children’s hospital—primary colors, goofy cartoon characters, and miserably uncomfortable furniture. It is a welcome trend for designers to recognize that “kid’s are people too,” rather than aliens that occupy miniature human bodies. Paying attention to the patient and family members’ needs is a differentiator in healthcare for patients of any age. 

Speaking of fresh air—the indoor environment is increasingly recognized as a critical component of effective pediatric healthcare. Extra precautions that eliminate potentially harmful chemicals from finishes and substrate materials, including furnishings can be an important factor in avoiding irritation and supporting satisfactory recovery. The comforting textures and appearance of natural finish materials and fibers are a welcome contrast to materials that require elaborate chemical and industrial manufacturing processes.

Larger rooms and amenities required to accommodate family support are not without cost implications, but a community’s willingness to invest in the best possible care for children is a key quality of life indicator. Communities with worn out schools, airports, hotels, convention centers, and children’s hospitals just can’t compete for the business investment that is the mark of a thriving community. It’s not child’s play but the investment pays dividends with every childish smile and giggle.”

—James Moler, PE, manager engineering systems, Turner Healthcare, Nashville, Tenn.

Focus on design and operation

As parents, children are our most prized accomplishments. They are an embodiment of everything we are and bring with them limitless potentials. This is why we are willing to go the extra mile in protecting them or making sure they get the best care possible. 

It's natural that we only want the best for our children when they are in the hospital. Not only is it important that patient rooms are designed to provide state-of-the-art medical care and have the capability to provide long-term family accommodations, but it's also important to provide spaces that are designed to be be part of the healing process. 

Children are often the most susceptible patients in a hospital environment, and are especially sensitive to environmental variables because their bodies are still developing or they may have compromised systems due to their illness. The elimination of items such as PBT's like mercury or PVC, the inclusion of the family in the treatment process, and having the ability to let children be children are critical to the design of a children's hospital.

Not only is the physical environment critical, the operation of the hospital plays an equally important role. Food served from the cafeteria should be provided with hormone-free and organic ingredients. Noise produced by the nursing staff or the maintenance teams should be reviewed to reduce it to the lowest levels possible. The management staff should work on purchasing programs that reduce toxic chemicals in the hospital.

It's the combination of the physical and the operational aspects that make for a family- and patient-friendly environment. Patients are stressed from the healing process, parents are stressed from the having their child in the hospital. Everything that can be done to go the extra mile to reinforce the recovery process is on the table for consideration.

—Ian Sinnett, AIA, LEED AP, Associate at Perkins+Will in Dallas, 2008 "40 under 40" winner.

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