Design trends strive to make hospital stays brighter, safer

University Medical Center at Princeton has become home to one of the first onsite "healthcare design labs," and will soon begin assigning patients, one at a time, to a new, state-of-the-art room created to help them heal faster and cut down on mishaps and staff errors.

The new room was designed using research funded with a $2.8 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of a 50-hospital project of the Center for Health Design in Concord, Calif., researching how design helps patients and staff in hospitals worldwide, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Features, chosen partly with staff input, include closer proximity of the bathroom to the bed (which can also sink into the floor and serve as a scale) to reduce falls, a specially designed grab rail on the wall that shines a light where patients will be stepping, a separate sink near the door to prompt more staff members to wash their hands and two-way linen cabinets that can be stocked from the hall, thus reducing room foot-traffic and infection risk.

If the design elements work, the single-bed room will be copied for all the rooms in the center's new 237-bed replacement hospital, a $447 million construction project rising nearby in Plainsboro, N.J., said Barry Rabner, president and CEO of Princeton HealthCare System, the hospital's parent.

Meanwhile, the former Children's Memorial, now the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, will open in the summer of 2012 featuring healing design elements coming from uniquely qualified experts in what can make a difficult hospital stay more peaceful: teens who have spent time in hospitals dealing with life-threatening conditions or chronic illnesses.

According to the young advisors, must-haves included outdoor space to escape the confines of the hospital, sunshine and as much peace and quiet as possible. When the team tossed adults' ideas for interactive games, a giant sea lion peering into the emergency room and cricket sounds, the hospital listened.

Though other pediatric hospitals have involved cultural organizations in their planning, Bruce Komiske, the project's design and construction chief, told the New York Times that it has never before been done on this scale. "Children's hospitals have set a new standard for adult hospitals," he said.

Finally, Shands Cancer Hospital in Florida is celebrating becoming the fourth hospital in the United States (and the only in the Southeast) to be awarded the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Gold certification for its environmentally friendly and energy-efficient features, reports the Gainesville Sun.

In rating new construction, the LEED program looks at five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. Gold is the highest level of LEED certification.

Brad Pollitt, Shands HealthCare facilities vice president, points to Gainesville Regional Utilities' South Energy Center, the combined heat and power plant on site, as a key component of the hospital's green initiative. "GRU is using natural gas to run the power plant. We don't have to use as much electricity because the building is more efficient," he said.

"It's good for all of us," Pollitt said. "And it is nice to be recognized for our efforts."

To learn more:
- read this article in the Wall Street Journal
- check out the piece in the New York Times
- see this story in the Gainesville Sun