New Projects Integrate Creative Architectural Design

Ann W. Langston

At Two Memphis Facilities, the Goal Was a Positive Patient Environment

In healthcare, not all the extraordinarily complex problems come exclusively to physicians. Sometimes those type questions can come to the people who design the buildings.

In fact, when recently faced with unusually complicated construction challenges, the designers of two newly completed major healthcare facilities responded with unique design ideas.

The applications proved to be a boon to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and Church Health at the Crosstown Concourse.

The design challenge presented by Church Health's move to the Crosstown Concourse was to consolidate 13 facilities and different services under one roof, according to Ann W. Langston, Church Health's Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships and Opportunities. From its first location, a home at 1210 Peabody opened in 1987, Church Health has strived to welcome patients and deliver medical care in a positive environment, or, as Langston said, "To combine efficiency and beauty as a way to express our respect for every person coming through the doors for care."

In preparing for the move from Peabody location, Langston said, "The first realization was that due to the huge size of the Crosstown Concourse building, Church Health staff and operations would be closer together if stacked on three floors instead of spread out on one floor.

"The next good idea was designing the three floors of Church Health around the West Atrium. Standing in the West Atrium, patients and visitors can see or be directed to most areas of Church Health."

The Welcome Center near the front doors of the West Atrium help visitors navigate the space from a central location. Meredy Dahlgren of Looney Ricks Kiss architecture worked with Church Health on the space. "With such an extensive range of services, the visual connectedness created through and across the West Atrium has been key to the planning and wayfinding process," she said.

Church Health founder and CEO Dr. Scott Morris wanted anyone coming into the West Atrium to "see wellness happening," Langston said, so the Nutrition Hub Teaching Kitchen and Classroom have glass walls, as do areas in the Church Health YMCA. The glass walls are also aesthetically pleasing, and, as Langston said, they help the West Atrium create "a sense of Church Health place."

When designing patient care space, the team used the pod concept, with a provider serving patients in each pod. Pods have three exam rooms and a "swing" room that can be used for specialists such as health coaches, social workers and others. "Because the medical clinic is large," Langston said, "triage, procedure, immunization and supply rooms, as well as mini-labs, are located throughout the pod sections of the clinic."

Beyond the logistical challenge of integrating healthcare services that range from dental care to nutrition and a teaching kitchen, Church Health did not want to lose its welcoming feel when it moved into the cavernous Crosstown Concourse building.

"A warm, comfortable, welcoming patient-centric environment has always been top priority for Church Health," Dahlgren said. "The big move to Crosstown Concourse offered so many opportunities for Church Health to unite their total care of mind, body and spirit all under one roof -- but could fail if those they serve did not feel Church Health's familiar embrace immediately. By understanding Church Health's core values, culture and mission, we, as designers, strived to create a physical environment that reinforces that identity and brand, from beginning to end -- through careful space planning, color, materials and lighting selections, as well as graphics."

"We have been allowed to be intentional when using the space as we are serving patients. For instance, we have windows in PT and Behavioral Health where patients may be depressed and need natural sunlight," said Tiffiny Wright and Jennifer Buhler, both nurses at Church Health.

John Curran

John Curran, Director of Design and Construction at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, echoed a similar sentiment about the importance of natural light and nature for pediatric patients. He estimates over the past 10 or so years, St. Jude has increased the percentage of windows on outside walls by 35 percent to allow more sunlight into patient rooms and research labs.

The 650,000-square-foot Advanced Research Center is scheduled to open in 2021, and Curran is excited about the seven-story internal atrium, which is made possible by windows on both sides of the building so light and views of the grounds are visible through the space. Because plants pose an issue to researchers due to their spores and molds, the windows will provide views of the trees and landscaping outside, which is helpful for patients who are indoors during their treatment.

Curran said patients also react positively to the art that St. Jude works to include in every space. From genome sculpture in the Chili's Care Center to the giant kinetic mobile in the atrium, there are surprise views from patient rooms and research spaces. Curran said, "We try to incorporate art in the architecture just about anywhere we go, and in just about any project we do."

Curran heard a patient comment on the new colored disc mobile, saying "waking up to that every day made them feel good, even though they were going through a bone marrow transplant, just seeing the space come to life really motivated them."

One of the toughest design challenges during Curran's tenure at St. Jude was the 2015 building of the Red Frog Events Proton Therapy Center with a 400-person auditorium on top.

"The proton therapy center at St. Jude is radiation treatment, very direct targeted radiation treatment, as accurately as anybody does it in the world," he said, and it is the first proton therapy dedicated to pediatrics. To build the vault-like structure to house the 250-ton equipment, the team dug 68 feet into the ground to accommodate the three-story structure. As Curran describes the center, "It's like a very huge racquetball court, and on top of that we put our auditorium. We were told it couldn't be done, and I don't know that anyone else would have tried it!"

Church Health nurses Wright and Buhler describe design in healthcare as more than a pretty building or a lot of windows.

In a response they composed together when asked their thoughts about the building, the two nurses wrote, "More than just having a lot of glass, it is our patients' perception that we are partners in their care. They can see the YMCA and know that we want them to have a safe and comfortable space to exercise. They can see the nutrition kitchen and know that we are serious about teaching them how to cook healthy and delicious meals.

"Lastly, they can see the Model for Healthy Living, which is important to us as a clinic.

The patients and families can see for themselves where they fall in this model, where they need to improve, and know that we will be with them every step of the way."


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Ann W. Langston, Church Health Center, Crosstown Concourse, Dr. Scott Morris, Jennifer Buhler, John Curran, Meredy Dahlgren, St. Jude Children's Research Center, Tiffiny Wright
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