Allina Hospitals & Clinics: Choy Leow, Director of Design

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Allina Hospitals & Clinics is non-profit network that includes 11 hospitals and more than 60 clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin. Choy Leow is the Director of Design for Allina Design & Construction, a service within the system. Leow provides conceptualization, programming, and planning leadership for facilities creation and renovation for the organization. He’s been with Allina for seven years.

In such a large system, there is always some sort of construction underway. It might be a new office or an entirely new hospital building. Bill Dunham, Director of Construction for Allina Design & Construction, estimates that the group completes an average of 300 projects per year. Together, Dunham and Leow bring the complete design and construction package to Allina’s internal system.

Building for Collaboration

“We bring a deliberate approach to determining our needs based on our patient care model and align that with what we need to build,” says Leow. “We are not just building to compete, but seeking opportunities where we can build to collaborate. We are looking to seek out synergies with potential partners to see whether we can build healthcare facilities that can bring the care options to our patients rather than approach them as two competing organizations.”

For instance, they have partnered with the Mayo Clinic in Owatonna, MN where Allina brings the hospital component to the community and Mayo provides clinical services. There they built a new, 38-bed hospital to replace the old one.

Partnerships aren’t always limited to other healthcare organizations, however. As one example, they are currently collaborating with the Minneapolis College of Art and Design to provide a real world practicum for the students who are going through the program on a replacement clinic in Ramsey, MN.

“Whatever design approach we bring to this clinic will also be looked at from a design college perspective,” says Leow. “They bring their creative problem solving processes to help us check whether or not we are practicing what we are preaching in terms of creating a healing environment for our patients and their families.”

Not only will Allina be examining clinic design elements with the students, they will also  tap into the fine arts department to bring some insight to the students about how Allina has been providing for the healing arts program. “Deliberate decision in placing art in our system is not just another predication, it also brings design that is evidence based and a totally functional display of purposeful arts that helps contribute to the healing of the patients,” says Leow.

Sustainable Facilities

“We are approaching evidence based design cautiously,” says Leow. “Knowing that a lot of the work is still, to a certain extent, theoretical … it’s kind of a constant debate we have internally, whether this is the right time to be integrating an evidence based design.”

As a non-profit, Leow says the organization has to carefully consider the dollars they spend. “We made a conscious effort not to adopt LEED certification methods, for instance,” Leow says, because of the additional costs that would be incurred. Instead, the group decided to adopt the Green Guide for Health Care. “We can still practice being green, but not incur additional costs in the process.”

At the same time, the group feels that it is important to be leading the way in creating a better healthcare environment. “We make it a two-way street approach,” Leow says, “between us as the consumer and as a contributor to the evidence-based design effort.”

Shifting from Expansion to Maintenance

Leow says the economic situation of the past few years is bringing about a change for Allina. The organization remains very liquid in terms of finances, but the focus is changing. “We are now kind of throttling back and making sure we target our resources to maintaining what we currently have,” says Leow.

“We want to make sure that the facilities and the care environments that we have invested so much resource and dollars in will continue to fulfill and meet our needs. We are, in 2010, focusing on strengthening our infrastructure—everything from the envelope to the systems that help sustain our care environment.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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