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Designing a Hospital? Ask Nurses First

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, February 7, 2011

When the nurses at Cass Regional Medical Center in Harrisonville, Missouri, got to pitch in on the design of their new hospital, they weren't just concerned with the color of the walls.

"They got very excited. They really wanted to look it from a perspective of ‘How is it going to help the patients and families?'" explained Twila Buckner, BSN, MBA, NE-BC, Cass Regional's chief nursing officer. The nurses wanted to know, "what [was] going to help them do their jobs easier and faster and better?"

A growing number of hospitals are involving nurses in the design of their facilities, consulting with them about everything from the size of patient rooms to the art that hangs on the walls. Doing so not only helps improve patient care; it can also improve morale and employee satisfaction.

That was the case at Cass Regional, which opened a new facility in September 2009. According to Buckner, the staff worked with the architects and builders in designing the new building and had a say in everything from what patient and treatment rooms would look like, to the functionality of the showers, furniture, and equipment, to how the patients would flow through the hospital.

"The CEO took a really big approach and decided to really involve nursing and those at the bedside in the design because he really felt like the employees were closer to the patients and would better know how to design the hospital," Buckner told HealthLeaders.

Involving the bedside staff in the design of a facility is a smart move. According to a research brief from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, "nurses at all levels and in every setting have a critical role to play on multidisciplinary teams charged with assess­ing, planning, and designing new and replacement facilities."

The paper discusses the importance of nurse involvement in hospital design using case studies from hospitals around the country. For example, the nurses at St. Mary's Medical Center North in Powell, Tennessee, "advocated for wider doorways to facilitate patient handling, nonslip floors to prevent falls, and supply servers with pass-through doors and view windows to allow nurses to see patients from the hallway and a list of attributes of these smartly designed hospitals," the research brief said.

Similarly, rooms at Cass Regional are large, and not only provide enough room for equipment and transporting patients, but for the nurses to move around easily. ADA-compliant showers allow nurses to simply wheel patients directly into the shower in a wheelchair if needed, Buckner says.

At Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in Elmhurst, Illinois, nurses were also involved in the design of a new campus, which opened in June. According to the hospital website, homelike design features such as gardens, private rooms, and soothing, natural colors, were incorporated into the space.

Feeling at home is something that Buckner echoes when talking about the nurses' involvement at Cass Regional.

"It feels like home to them because of a lot of the input that they had," she says. "It doesn't feel like a hospital building."

In addition to contributing to a work environment that's more conducive to healing and patient care, Buckner says the nurses at Cass Regional are happier in their jobs. She adds that giving the nurses a say in the design has "absolutely" helped to boost morale.

"I think that people are happier coming to work because of the ownership piece, and I think that they feel more loyal," she says. "Our employee engagement scores really show that the staff are more engaged in the facility, and I think a lot of that comes from them being allowed to have quite a bit of input into the design."

Source: HealthLeaders Media