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Healthcare design that cares for the whole child

October 04, 2017

By Brenda Bush-Moline

Three creative approaches to designing for children’s health

New ways of thinking about care for children in specialized environments requires new approaches to designing spaces that respond to the needs of children at their most vulnerable. Today, we’re taking a look at three healthcare environments where new thinking about care has pushed us toward innovative solutions, all with the goal of creating environments that help young people heal.

ErinoakKids Centre for Treatment and Development (Brampton, ON)

At ErinoakKids, it’s not just about treating a child’s physical illness but looking at the psychological, community, and social aspects of wellness. The center treats a wide range of children of varying ages and cultural backgrounds with diverse medical issues, from autism to hearing loss. ErinoakKids offers services for speech and language, social work, physiotherapy, and psycho-education. When ErinoakKids chose to build three new buildings to replace aging facilities, it wanted to reorient toward a holistic approach to care but also break out of kid-centric design clichés.

Courtyard at ErinoakKids, which has three facilities scheduled to open in early 2018.

So how does a design team achieve these client aspirations? First, each building is designed to function as an interactive, therapeutic tool, not as an institution. To make the community resource kid-friendly, but not childlike, it is finished with a campground theme that celebrates trees, nature, and takes play seriously. It includes a treehouse—one that the CEO insisted should be universally accessible—and is! There’s even a train-spotting nook with a telescope where kids can view passing trains.

Importantly, all these unique activities and amenities serve a purpose—to either encourage behavioral development or to act as tools for marking progress toward personal goals. The optimistic spaces emphasize joy and a sense of play in fully accessible playgrounds, while incorporating smart design features that help children recover. These include numbered stairs to gauge progress and measure achievements, a gym with a climbing wall, and multi-sensory environments that reduce anxiety and increase engagement. Exterior gardens include both play-oriented spaces, serenity gardens, an upper level terrace, and a therapy courtyard. 

Rendering of the therapeutic pool at ErinoakKids in Brampton, Ontario.

Recognizing the significant impact of illness on a child’s formative years, ErinoakKids includes an art installation in the main lobby, to encourage young clients to leave a personal mark of achievement in the form of a hand-painted tile. And, with space for 70 years’ worth of tiles, ErinoakKids is poised to deliver a bright future for young people with disabilities for years to come.

Secure Treatment Facility (Nova Scotia)

Behavioral problems in children can be devastating to both the child and supporting family members. Today, new treatments are being explored to help patients and families cope. This secure treatment facility takes a new approach in trauma-informed care and treatment for up to 18 young people from ages 6 to 18.

With a focus on youth patients with behavioral problems, the facility serves young people at points of extreme difficulty or crisis. How can the physical environment contribute to helping patients through the recovery process? With the understanding that behavior is often a result of the brain’s response to trauma, the program does more than treat the behavior—it provides care that goes to the trauma at the root. The facility provides assessment and treatment through education, physio education, emotional regulation, and life-skill training. Mindfulness and health education are more recent additions to address trauma. The space is designed to feel like a neighborhood, complete with multiple connected houses and an indoor street, that when journeyed through full circle, leads the child to a better place.

Spaces were developed through a process of informed collaborative design, working closely with professionals (social workers to psychiatrists) who interact with the patients daily. As a result, the treatment spaces are supportive and flexible; they include meditation rooms and outdoor activity spaces that encourage positive progress and healing.

Safety is of paramount concern in this environment, both for healthcare providers—who must feel secure to focus on their work—and for the young people undergoing treatment. Spaces are designed to be fully secure and controllable without feeling or looking oppressive and institutional. Access to doors and windows are carefully controlled, but there are no bars. The new facility reports a stellar safety record—striking the right balance between durability, comfort, and feeling homelike—so healing the trauma can begin.

Almost Home Kids is a facility that provides short-term transitional care and training for families.

Almost Home Kids (Chicago, IL) 

Children with complex and chronic medical conditions comprise a signifi­cant percentage of hospitalized pediatric patients. The children require coordinated transitional care when discharged to home to minimize readmission.

Almost Home Kids (AHK) is a place for children that provides short-term transitional care in a homelike setting for children who have chronic medical issues and complex health needs. AHK also provides training for families and respite care. Children who are technology-dependent or have complex medical needs are eligible for AHK’s services.

As the healthcare industry explores new models of care, AHK is an innovator in this type of care. AHK started in a converted suburban home. Its second location is a high-rise building blocks from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in downtown Chicago. Today, AHK is expanding to build new centers allied with leading children’s hospitals outside of Chicago.

Stantec joined with Almost Home Kids to develop a prototype to optimize AHK’s model of care. Envisioned with the feel of a large-scale home, AHK’s thoughtful, functional features are artfully placed to create a welcoming atmosphere.

  • It connects with the outdoors. Gracious porches with elegant banisters, bead board ceilings, and slow moving fans wrap around the AHK building. Children can connect with nature in the landscaped and protected courtyard. All interior care points are outfitted with skylights to allow generous exposure to daylight. The outdoor views serve to emit a warm, welcoming glow from the building in the evening.    
  • AHK emphasizes dignity and privacy. Each facility features a separate entrance for those arriving and departing via hospital transport. AHK’s administrative, meeting, and storage functions are kept off-stage to preserve the homelike atmosphere. The clinical staff have their own space, changing rooms, lockers, and a dedicated entrance. All these design decisions keep the focus on the children and their families.
  • Free to move. Independence in a setting that supports a healthy daily routine is what Almost Home Kids is all about. The facility’s destinations are all connected by a rotunda with views to the courtyard.
  • Specialized rooms and homelike spaces. AHK includes physical therapy space, a nutrition room, and medication rooms. The residential ambiance carries through to a large family room and connected kitchen where workstations on wheels and ample electrical stations allow caregivers to easily move their children through the space. The nutrition room and medication rooms are designed to serve as teaching spaces for families who will resume their caretaking role at home. Care points for the nurses feel like study spaces or craft rooms.
  • Whimsical themes. The bedroom wing features 12 bedrooms for children with ample space for family members. Each is designed with a unique whimsical theme that incorporates storage, seating choices as well as a desk and a sleeper sofa for the family. The size of the room allows loved ones to be involved in care while maintaining a kid-friendly scale.

AHK creates a welcoming and warm setting for children in transition to living in the family home.

What we’ve learned

In each project, we’re reminded that children are particularly vulnerable members of our society with unique needs.

Promoting the well-being of our most vulnerable in the built environment is our charge as designers for health. Recent innovations in treatment and care for children give us an opportunity to bring our creativity and compassion to spaces that will help children heal. These are the projects that remind us why we practice architecture and inspire us to design each day.

  • Brenda Bush-Moline

    Brenda is responsible for inspired and energized service for our healthcare clients.

    Contact Brenda
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