Assuring access to care, especially in underserved communities, takes more than providing adequate medical facilities. Rethinking how those facilities are improved or built from scratch can drive a more robust and holistic approach to hospital design.
When McKissack & McKissack entered the education space, the needs were distressingly pressing for public facilities in underserved communities. Among other things, we had to be canny in how we managed projects with limited budgets. The biggest takeaway, though, was the ability to take everything we learned in education, infrastructure and other public works and bring that experience and knowledge to bear on healthcare facilities.
When communities struggle to maintain adequate housing and schools, economic stability or social capital, creating a true community health center goes beyond providing an up-to-date physical plant. Public spaces influence population health through factors as varied as space planning, mechanical systems and commercial interior design.
For instance, the work we are doing to rebuild, revitalize and reintroduce St. Elizabeths East in Washington, D.C., includes new inpatient and outpatient facilities, parking and a potential cancer care center. Community engagement will be crucial throughout the schedule, with the facility slated to open in late 2024. This project will be reviewed by the federal Commission of Fine Arts, historic preservation agencies and the local agencies that must approve a range of healthcare, transportation and environmental issues. Every aspect of the project is designed to elevate care for some of the most vulnerable communities in the district, mostly Black and Brown people who have suffered disparities disproportionate to the larger population.
Public spaces are a calling card for any organization, whether it is a business, corporation, hotel or hospital. In fact, both hospitals and hospitality must provide inviting and comfortable accommodations, not an imposing façade. Like a hotel, a hospital provides a lobby where patients ’family and friends congregate, as well as registration areas to prepare outpatients for their procedures. Hospital interior design often takes its cue from hotels to create engaging gathering spaces that put visitors at ease.
Outpatient facilities have taken on new importance in medical center planning. Outpatient services expand access to health services at lower cost, and play a critical supporting role in managed care, providing resources to the primary care physician. McKissack will play a central role in development of the St. Elizabeths outpatient pavilion. The facility will be a space community members embrace, trusting that the care team will listen, empower their decisions and prepare them to leave with a plan of action.
Modern hospitals have even larger roles to fill in the community. They can and should be economic drivers too. Hospitals employ not only doctors and nurses but also administrative staff, janitors and cooks among its myriad healthcare and service professionals. Retail and other consumer-focused businesses profit from their proximity to a thriving healthcare facility. These jobs are the community’s lifeblood.
In one of the healthiest outcomes of all, the community will see the hospital in a new light: as a good neighbor and driving force for robust population health, and the healthcare providers they encounter as trusted professionals. Architecture and design can help caregivers and service professionals engage everyone in the community and put them on the path to wellness.