Children’s Hospital Design Not Standing Still

Posted on May 2, 2013


After reading about the monstrous investments made by several children’s hospitals nationwide, I thought long and hard about how I should react.

The designs showcased in the WSJ article suggested desperation, waste.  The expression “lipstick on a pig” came to mind.  Then I remembered an earlier quote from one of my previous posts, where savvy hospital administrators are more able to invest in their physical facilities because they realize their buildings are only a small fraction of their annual operating expenses.  Maybe this is just a wild experimentation phase.  After all, if it doesn’t work, they can tear it down and do something else.

But who actually exercises such design freedom?  Hospitality, retail,…but not healthcare (at least not up until now).  Hospitals stretch their resources as it is just to keep up with advancing clinical technology.

Push-back on facility investment is quite common nowadays.  Communities and hospital Boards are not always 100% in favor of bigger and better.  This month, a proposed new hospital in southwest Florida for a community that does not have one now is not even getting universal support.  John Q. Public has heard enough in the media to know investment in physical infrastructure might not be a good thing right now.

Some healthcare projects can seem gaudy, wasteful and out-of-touch with the community for sure.  Rural healthcare design often must toe this line:  provide a clinically-updated facility that meets modern codes and standards—but not too nice or it could be rejected by the community as a luxurious and inaccurate reflection of the community.  Keep it simple and practical or citizens can feel embarrassed, angered, fleeced.

Children’s hospitals are by no means a pig, but the featured hospitals in the above article seem to be putting window dressing on items that clearly need a lot more thought.

Think about the patient path through a children’s hospital and there are more fruitful ways to invest than in a lobby out of Robin Hood.  The inside of ambulances are not exactly calming to a child, and many kids arrive via the pediatric ED.  MRI machines  are a cacophony ranging from barely tolerable to downright maddening—and that’s for an adult.  Throwing money at that concern for progress would definitely make the world a better place.  Do the buildings need to be enormously-scaled, which can be intimidating to a child?  To that end, why are lobbies double, triple-height spaces…an atrium?  These are not efficient or widely acceptable designs even in hospitality, let alone a hospital.  Given a bad situation like wasted space, a false jungle might be an improvement—hence the pig analogy.

Where I stand at the moment on this theme:  at least hospitals are doing something.  Could there be more effective decisions?  Yes, but change is necessary.  Let’s see where this leads.