South Florida Hospital News
Sunday April 11, 2021
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March 2021 - Volume 17 - Issue 9
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Design for Our Caregivers

There has been a tremendous amount written about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upon design and healthcare facilities. “New normal,” “healthcare design strategies,” and “redefining how we work and live” have been the catch phrases we have heard over the past year and the ongoing discussions in relation to the physical form these phrases take with regard to the buildings in which we work and live.

Also, over this past year, we have watched the news and listened to the conversation about the impact of COVID-19 upon healthcare workers; the stresses of being overworked, anxious, pressured, sense of being overwhelmed, feelings of isolation and depression.
In response, the design of medical facilities must include architectural designs that reduce stress and anxiety of the doctors, nurses, and all our frontline workers.
 
Medical facility design has been patient-centric, demonstrating care and concern for patients and their families who seek care within buildings designed to augment their healing and comfort through established design principles. A hospital is a stressful place; so, from the moment patients arrive and throughout their visit, design should not add to anxiety but instead serve to calm and comfort people during their period of anxiety.
 
Medical workers are under intense pressures and anxieties as they recognize their responsibility to provide healing and comfort to large amounts of people in critical need. COVID-19 patient volumes and limited supplies have stressed out workers to new levels. In addition, these workers’ emotional engagement is heightened by becoming stand-ins for family members no longer allowed to come visit. They provide emotional comfort in addition to medical care, and that emotional toll on healthcare workers has been significant.
 
How can we alter our designs to provide calm and lift the mood of workers during this trying time?
 
Natural light/biophilic architecture is imperative to reach healthcare workers. While daylight is desired, well designed, ambient light may boost moods and relieve stress. Excessive or uneven light can lead to mental fatigue, visual discomfort, and amplify stress. Direct light, indirect light and task lighting must be well thought out and designed. Just a few minutes of looking out a window at trees or water can reduce anxiety and stress.
 
When designing call centers for 911 operators, spaces are included for decompression and counseling after participating in and listening to a stressful call. This is not an employee lounge or coffee station, and it would be prudent to have similar spaces within a hospital where workers can grab a moment of emotional decompression as they run from one critical COVID-19 patient to the next. Here, staff respite areas should be painted with neutral colors to promote a calming effect.
 
Design to reduce clutter is a critical component of reducing stress and assisting healthcare workers. We need to design spaces where all the equipment used has a planned space to be located so that rooms and hallways do not look like obstacle courses to get around. How do we design spaces to accommodate additional equipment without clutter? I am not speaking about bringing in emergency equipment for a code, but about the equipment lining rooms and hallways in a surge that adds to an emergency nature of the event and increases stress to the healthcare worker. Cluttered spaces exaggerate stress because it adds an element of search to a dynamic medical situation. Equipment and mobile carts need to be identified and space planned.
 
Noise adds to stress. The action of healthcare and the open space work areas do become issues for healthcare workers when it comes to noise and privacy. The COVID-19 requirements of heightened workloads and an additional level of urgency requires designers to balance controlling noise and employee privacy. Not a privacy lounge, but as employees are charting, on an important call, trying to coordinate medical instructions and medicines, the noise of the surrounding activities can be a deterrent to being accurate and certainly adds stress as the worker struggles to listen and get it right.
 
Ultimately part of the lesson learned is that our medical space designs should not create or amplify stress in our healthcare workers; just the apposite - the design should enhance calmness, health, and efficient medical attention.

Charles Michelson is President of Saltz Michelson Architects. For more information, visit www.saltzmichelson.com.

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