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What does designing with the heart of healthcare mean for nurses?

September 02, 2020

By Donna Rothwell

Celebrating the Year of the Nurse in an interview with a distinguished client

Nurses are the heart of healthcare. They have firsthand knowledge of what patients need to feel safe and comfortable, how a unit should flow, and what will make the healthcare staff most productive. We continue to honor this valuable profession as we celebrate the International Year of the Nurse, as recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) to mark Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday in 2020.

As a former nurse myself—do you ever really stop being a nurse?—I am able to bring my healthcare background to the design process for hospitals and medical facilities. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with some of the smartest, most talented, and most caring nurses in the industry. None however with more superlatives than my longtime colleague and friend Mary-Agnes Wilson, RN, PhD, who serves as the executive vice president, chief operating officer, and chief nursing executive for Mackenzie Health in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

I talked to Mary-Agnes about how her impressive professional journey, how nurses’ input affects facility design, and where nursing and healthcare are headed. 

You often hear nursing is a calling. What drew you to our profession?

Mary-Agnes: I knew I wanted to be a nurse from the time I was 6 years old. Every day, as I walked to school, I would pass by St. Joseph’s Hospital in North Bay and see the nurses walking from their residence to the hospital. My mother was in the hospital and it was the nurses that gave her the constant care that made her better. They looked so professional, in their white uniforms and navy wool capes. Their clean, polished appearance as they head to challenging day’s work left a lasting impression on me.

When I graduated, I knew I wanted to work in the ICU but learned early on not to plan my career—let it happen. I took advantage of every chance to develop my skills. Titles were never a concern as I embraced each opportunity to grow and learn. Nursing is not just patient care, so I learned how to implement systemwide changes and efficiently tackled administrative tasks. While the Sinai Health System, I was proud to be only Chief Nursing Leader to implement the magnet hospital initiative in Canada.

At Stantec, we value a nurse’s input in designing healthcare facilities, and we’ve hired nurses to join our design team. Tell us about your experience with healthcare design and this partnership.

Mary-Agnes: Well-being of patients, families, and providers, health and environment are the paradigm when creating a healthcare facility. It is all about how we use the surrounding environment to enhance the patient experience and care. But we also need to think about how we support care providers while keeping patients safe and comfortable. Working with a member of the design team that brings real-world nursing knowledge—like you, Donna!—means partnering with someone who knows how that paradigm can be translated into the design, so all essential components are covered. There is no one else that could fill that role with such expertise. 

Well-being of patients, families, and providers, health and environment are the paradigm when creating a healthcare facility.

At Mackenzie Health, we look at design through the eyes of the patients and the caregivers. For example, our recent design includes discreet pods that hold supplies near patients to give nurses an easier and more efficient supply run. We also ensured that plenty of natural light was brought into the building and supplemented that with artificial lighting that runs on a 24-hour cycle to mimic the outdoor light. Our staff spends countless hours in the hospital, they need a supportive space that values their well-being.

Previous operational readiness experiences have not included a nurse liaison role on the design team like Stantec has now. There were delays in opening. Working with the nurse liaison team as we embarked on the activation process brought a new level of technical knowledge and sophistication needed for communication with our C-suite. Having a nurse on the team added credibility as they understood the concerns of staff and patients and could make recommendations based on personal experience. A nurse on the design team commands the respect of our care team.

Once in these new healthcare spaces, nurses still face challenges providing care. How are you addressing these?

Mary-Agnes: One main challenge we always face is resource allocation and alignment. Do we have the right number of staff? Technology continues to evolve, and although it often replaces some nurses’ tasks, it also creates a level of burden and expectations. As nurses embrace technology, they still have to balance time spent on computer vs. with their patient.

Spending time during the activation process to fully understand the impact of technology on nurses’ work is essential to delivering safe and effective patient care.

In addition to being the Year of the Nurse, 2020 has been a year of challenges. What are your thoughts on nurses and the pandemic?

Mary-Agnes: I find it fitting to celebrate Florence Nightingale’s legacy of advocating for nurses, and now 200 years later we are experiencing the worst global crisis in our history. Nurses are more critical than ever. We have all seen nurses in their masks on the front line and the essential roles they have in the healthcare system. I often hear nurses referred to as angels or heroes, but those do not seem natural references to me. I call them smart, thoughtful, and critical to the delivery of care and services.

Before COVID-19, nurses could be overlooked. Discussions around cost cutting were often pointed at nurses as leadership thought they could reduce staff or replace nurses with less expensive professionals. Now, no one is cutting their nursing staff. Our minds are filled with pictures of nurses in their PPE taking care of the sick and dying. Ironically, the nurses whose value was being questioned pre-COVID are the same nurses who are so valuable in dealing with infection, recovery, and death.

I hope society remains appreciative of the unique knowledge and skills our nurses represent. Thankfully, the profession is being respected for the life and death role it plays. 

  • Donna Rothwell

    As a project manager, Donna has guided many healthcare organizations through extensive change and transitions at all levels.

    Contact Donna
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