Construction Trends: Pediatric Healthcare

At a pediatric hospital, the healing process should begin as soon as Mom or Dad drives up the driveway to look for a parking space.

Odds are, in Arizona, that driveway leads to a hospital built by Kitchell: builder of Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, The University of Arizona Medical Center – Diamond Children’s in Tucson, and Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Kitchell has helped put Arizona on the map as a hub of pediatric excellence.  All three were completed within two years. $702,200,000, 1,449,500 SF, 608 beds.

There many critical issues to consider when constructing or expanding a pediatric hospital. All involved need to minimize negative impacts to the recovering patients. “The patient comes first,” says Mike Wolfe, a Kitchell project director. “If you or a loved one had the misfortune to be in a hospital that was undergoing construction, would you want a construction crew to be jack-hammering concrete in the middle of the night? Working in and around children’s hospitals requires extra sensitivity and flexibility to work around patients’ needs.”

The No. 1 goal of designers and builders is to produce a stress-reducing, healing environment while guarding against infections and medical errors. Bringing all stakeholders–owners, architects, engineers, contractors and even young patients who may be “frequent fliers –into the pre-design phase has proven highly beneficial to construction outcomes.

Space Planning

At pediatric hospitals, space is needed to accommodate more than one family member. Often when one child is in the hospital, the entire family, siblings and extended family included. Ample space is available for fold-out beds and private guest showers in patient rooms. There are more “soft” spaces for siblings and other family members to spend time.

Some Spaces Unique to Pediatric Hospitals

- Expanded kitchens to fulfill children’s menu preferences (pizza, stir-fry, etc.)
- Treatment rooms on each floor so patient bedrooms are “pain-free” safe havens
- Interactive play/family spaces on each floor
- Teen activity rooms
- Lactation rooms
- Auditorium/stages for children to see performances, concerts, graduations, or have parties
- Meditation rooms
- Healing gardens
- Toy stores

Pods vs. Private Rooms

What is better for the youngest patient and family, a private room or a pod arrangement? This is actively being discussed right now. The benefits of private rooms seem obvious, but healthcare experts value the interactive nature of community-oriented pod set-ups, which are conducive to family-to-family interaction. After all, no one can relate to a family’s ordeal better than another family simultaneously going through the same challenges. Current designs have trended toward private rooms, but family areas, clinical programs and hospital-directed family support groups have promoted the “community” healing benefit for the young patients.

Engaging Environments

The most apparent differences between pediatric and traditional hospitals often lie in the visual cues. Bright colors and whimsical designs serve to create a restorative–and entertaining–atmosphere for patients and their families.

Motifs/Theming

Theming to engage and entertain is certainly the most obvious defining characteristic of a pediatric hospital, but how to achieve the right tone, taking age-appropriateness into consideration, is far from obvious.  Cutting-edge technology is being utilized to bring “edutainment” and social media options directly into patient rooms. Multiple textures, varied artwork and soothing finishes reinforce the healing process. Highly durable, vibrantly colored terrazzo flooring is currently very popular. Natural elements, such as whimsical water features, are a dynamic way to bring the outside in (and engage the senses of hearing, smell and touch, as well as sight) to what has traditionally been a cold and sterile place.

Sensory Sensitivity

Lighting makes a huge difference. For example, natural lighting helps babies heal faster. The industry is coming up with creative ways to integrate natural lighting with state-of-the-art LED interior lighting that enables healthcare staff to perform their jobs effectively, but is also pleasing to the patients — a huge leap forward from the harsh cathode lighting of the past. On the sound front, a quiet environment may reduce recovery time. Rubber flooring with high STC acoustical ratings has replaced vinyl sheeting predominantly used in the past.