Healing by Design: The Anatomy of a Modern Hospital

• August 27, 2008 • Comments (2)

arhcc atrium1 300x200 Healing by Design: The Anatomy of a Modern HospitalAugust 24th 2008 was a red letter day in the Eastern Fraser Valley, BC, Canada. The first new-build hospital for more than thirty years, the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre (ARHCC), opened its doors. As the old MSA hospital (built over fifty years ago and showing its every year) closed it’s doors for the last time, staff, patients and visitors were settling in at the cutting edge of 21st century hospital design

The ARHCC is Canada’s first public-private-partnership (P3) hospital. This P3 partnership involves the Ministry of Health Services, Fraser Health (the local Health Authority), the Provincial Health Services Authority, the BC Cancer Agency, The Fraser Valley Regional Hospital District, Partnerships BC and Access Health Abbotsford (a consortium of companies). The old MSA hospital was last renovated in 1980 and the population of Abbotsford has increased 2.5 times since then. Local people have waited a long time for this hospital but the consensus of those visiting it on the open days was that it was worth the wait. I visited on 26th August to check out the building for myself.

The building is neat and modern externally and once inside it was hard not to be slightly-awed by the space in the atrium. With a vaulted ceiling that reaches up to three floors and floor-to-ceiling windows spanning one wall, the sense of space is impressive.

The wall of coloured windows to the rear and right are complemented by the block pattern of the carpeted area. Sitting on one of the leather sofas provided in the reception area and looking out on the trees and planting outside, I was struck by something else. The whole space smelled more of the leather than anything else. There was no ‘hospital smell’ yet. With a Starbucks due to open soon, perhaps the Atrium will bypass the disinfectant smell altogether in favour of coffee. That would be an advance!

The hospital spans 5 levels and because of the way the land rises, each floor plan is lightly different. There are five ‘spokes’, each named after a local landmark: Cheam, Baker, Yale, Fraser and Sumas. The ‘spokes’ are colour-coded with symbols that are repeated on floors and walls to help visitors, patients and staff to orientate themselves. ‘Wayfinding Guides’ are available everywhere and the signing on corridors, floors and walls is very clear. I’m pleased to report we didn’t get lost once.

More than 200 healthcare workers were consulted in the design and building for patients was a prime consideration as Walter Hiller, President and Chief Project Officer explains:

“…we very much wanted to create a healing environment for patients and so we drove the design by providing only either 1 or 2 bedrooms in this facility…lots of natural light streaming… through very large windows… and wanted to give patients views to the outside or onto courtyards to inspire them on the path to healing..” (Source: ‘New Project Video’, http://www.abbotsfordhospitalandcancercentre.ca/index.php )

The design and construction teams worked closely from the conceptual design stage to the construction process. Sustainability was crucial and the energy operating costs for the building were modeled repeatedly using simulation software and the help of EnerSys Analytics. They needed a balance between energy savings, design and contractors. In the end many measures were incorporated including:

  • High-efficiency gas fired hot water boilers
  • A flue gas heat recovery system
  • A high-efficiency chilled water generation for air-conditioning
  • An exhaust air heat recovery system
  • Variable speed control on all significant pumps and fans
  • Low flow plumbing fixtures
  • Energy efficient lighting systems
  • A high-performance building envelope with low-e glazing and selective shading coefficients

In total, the hospital is expected to consume nearly 40 % less energy compared to a ‘Model National Energy for Buildings’-compliant hospital. Energy operating cost savings should be in the region of $500,000 per year and savings of 3,100 tons of CO2 emissions per year.

From the ground-breaking in December 2004 to the completed construction in May 2008, this project has been under close scrutiny by all quarters. In the May 16th, 2008 Press Release, though, there was high praise from the Health Minister, George Abbott:

“The Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre is the first new regional hospital to open in more than 30 years and represents the single largest health-care capital investment in the history of the province,” said Abbott. “The project was completed on time, on budget and within scope – an unprecedented achievement for a health-care project of this size and complexity.” (Source: 2008HEALTH0059-000759, New Hospital and Cancer Centre Opens in 100 Days, http://www.abbotsfordhospitalandcancercentre.ca/files/media.php )

The challenge for the staff now is to continue to provide excellent health care while familiarizing themselves with this large new building and all the new equipment and procedures. All staff had Orientation Training in the new hospital before it opened and this will continue. There are bound to be some teething issues but the move to the hospital has gone remarkably well so far. Patients and staff are benefitting from increased space, utility and privacy and these should bring improvements in terms of a positive hospital experience. The environment created is clean, comfortable and fit for purpose. The high expectations of the design appear to being met.

After all the planning, designing and preparation, the new hospital is up and running. And what do the Abbotsford residents think about it? The sign in a local church perhaps sums it up: “God bless our new hospital”

Tags: architechture, buildings

Category: Architecture, Sustainability

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Comments (2)

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  1. Laura-Jane says:

    This article idea is interesting. Is a hospital art? Is a hospital culture? Come to think of it, yes!

    I don’t remember the specific stats, but I believe that “buildings” suck up something like 40 percent of all energy used in Canada and the United States. So if large, new facilities are built with better energy efficiency in mind, this can only help. (As long as they don’t tear don’t perfectly good buildings to replace them with more efficient ones!)

  2. Mary Higgins says:

    Thank you for your feedback and I’m glad you found it interesting. A Hospital is a culture and contributes to ‘culture’ as a whole. The design impacts directly to the perceived experience of the patients, staff and visitors. In the case of the ARHCC the old building could not be updated to the required standards so a newbuild was the only option. The future of the old building has not been decided as yet.

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