Hospital makes design changes with patients in mind


For four years, Enviah worked with Mary Free Bed to optimize its space for healing using evidence-based transformative design. Courtesy Enviah

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) With the completion of Phase 2 of its $66.4-million expansion project, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital became the fifth-largest independent rehabilitation hospital in the U.S. But it’s not just the square footage of the new building that makes Mary Free Bed one of the top destinations for rehab patients — the inside is just as important.

For four years, Enviah, a Grand Rapids-based health care design and consulting firm, worked with Mary Free Bed on the project to optimize the space for healing using evidence-based transformative design. Enviah President Lorissa MacAllister said that process involved looking at how best to incorporate operational improvements and transform the cultural environment of the new facility; the features include a more welcoming lobby area and an entire second floor designed to improve staff communication.

MacAllister said the trend toward transformative health care design is relatively new, really ramping up with the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, as well as the shift toward keeping medical records on file electronically.

“Hospitals and the health care system itself is under a full overhaul — there’s probably no other industry in our time that we’ve seen so structurally changing,” MacAllister said. “It’s a shift in how hospitals are being paid, not from volume of patients but more tuned to the patient experience and their (treatment) outcomes.”

MacAllister said the newer model of health care no longer resembles that of an assembly line — where a patient comes in, gets treated and is discharged — but more of a collaborative effort between the entire hospital staff.

The second floor of Mary Free Bed’s new facility was designed with this in mind, MacAllister said. With the ground and third floors designated for inpatient and outpatient treatment, the second floor is a staff-only administrative space.

By sandwiching the behind-the-scenes operations in between the inpatient and outpatient floors, the collaboration and coordination of the staff efforts should be much more fluid, MacAllister said.

“There’s a lot of research and evidence in regards to having that visual connectivity in improving communication,” she said. “Those casual hallway conversations, having those moments where you can bump into someone and have a confidential setting to discuss a patient’s care or even a space to regenerate and recoup is very important.”

MacAllister added with the shortage in the health care workforce, there is a need to optimize the output of existing staff rather than expanding space to accommodate more employees. Intentional human-centered design is one of the best ways to do so.

Enviah also worked with the hospital to redesign the lobby area on the first floor, replacing the large check-in desk with individual check-in kiosks and a roving greeter who can welcome each patient individually. The registration desks are in the shape of a half-circle, which was intentional to allow incoming patients to sit adjacent to the person checking them in, removing the barrier of a desk and creating a more welcoming environment.

The individual kiosks also are more accessible for patients who may be in a wheelchair or otherwise inhibited.

“These desks, sitting side by side to the check-in person and having conversations while shoulder to shoulder and at eye level while being able to share information on the screen can empower the patients and make them feel better about their care,” MacAllister said.

Mary Free Bed’s therapy gyms also were redesigned by Enviah to create a more encouraging and motivational environment, with the gyms flowing into outside spaces used for therapy and allowing for interconnection between the outside and inside spaces. Additionally, Enviah helped design Mary Free Bed’s activities of daily living to best suit the needs of patients both with and without mobility inhibitors, allowing them to practice daily household tasks prior to their return home.

The transformative design of Mary Free Bed’s new facility is expected to increase patient satisfaction by 11 percent, according to Enviah. The firm boasts its previous work with facilities in Michigan has resulted in a 58 percent improvement in patient satisfaction, a 19 percent increase in patient care time productivity and a 14 percent increase in security and privacy of patients and staff.

“This is a transformation that’s happening within health care, where all the various components in the operations and process in how things are working are being reevaluated,” MacAllister said. “It takes a savvy CEO and leader in the organization to have that ability to lead folks into a transformative state, because as you’re asking folks to transform an organization, you have to work to a point of knowing where that destination would be.”

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