Lakeland Regional Medical Center: Joe Wasserman, President & CEO

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Imagine a hospital where patients are so relaxed and feel so at home that they ask to stay a couple of extra days. This may not have been exactly what Lakeland HealthCare had in mind when designing the addition to Lakeland Regional Medical Center in southwest Michigan, but their vision was so successful that this is what they got. Lakeland is a not-for-profit, community-owned healthcare system that includes a 254-bed and an 89-bed hospital, a 44-bed specialty hospital providing long-term and acute-care, and two nursing homes.

The organization’s history dates back to 1908 when Mercy Hospital was opened in Benton Harbor, Michigan. A competing hospital opened in St. Joseph in 1951, and those two hospitals came together in a 1977 merger that, in time, became Lakeland HealthCare.

The recently completed 60 million dollar addition and an 11 million dollar 600 car parking structure includes four floors for patient care with windows in each room to maximize natural light and provide views of the hospital orchards and gardens. The goal of the design was to enhance every aspect of the healing process. The result sets a new standard for healthcare facilities. “There is more to the building than just bricks and mortar,” writes Joe Wasserman, President and CEO.

A Healing Environment

Patient comfort was at the top of the agenda for the hospital’s new addition. Larger patient rooms have windows that maximize natural light, an element that has been proven to speed healing. The rooms are divided into zones so that there is now room for the patient, the caregiver, and the patient’s family members making each room more visitor friendly. Each room was designed with patient safety in mind, as well. Double doors open into each room and bathroom providing ample space for access. “The distance between the bathroom and the patient’s bed is about the shortest in the industry at about seven feet,” says Michael J. Kastner, Director of Building Services and Construction Management. Because a patient is most likely to fall when walking from the bed to the bathroom, this should reduce the rate of injury.

Healing is about more than just the patients, however. There are four separate waiting areas for family members on each floor. One has a television, but the others are designed with a homelike atmosphere in mind. Each floor of the addition has a family retreat area, complete with a comfortable seating and kitchen area. “It is extremely restful,” says Kastner. “There is internet access and a place to bake cookies, little ovens, a refrigerator, and a fireplace. It’s really well done.”

The staff has been remembered, as well. Lakeland team members are encouraged to use the caregiver retreat areas any time they feel they need a break from the hectic schedule of the day.

Evidence-Based Design

Lakeland wanted to go one step further, however, and planned the new addition with evidence-based design methods. “We talked to a lot of architects about evidence-based design,” says Kastner. “A lot of them understand it, talk about it; but not very many of them walk the walk. So we kept searching until we found someone who was willing to walk the walk with us.”

Lakeland developed 77 metrics that would provide measurable statistics. They will be able to compare statistics from the old and new hospital areas to quantify improvements.

Now rather than having one nursing station per floor, for instance each floor has four nursing stations and two dictation areas and two Multidisciplinary work areas that are glassed in and separated from the corridor. This helps to separate people which helps to reduce noise. The added nurse stations also reduced the walking distance for the nursing staff from the nurse station to the Patient room. “We measured the noise at the patient room right next to the nursing station and the patient room furthest away to determine how much noise is in the hallways on all of our nursing units. Then we purposely designed and built in a way to reduce noise at all the nurse stations,” says Kastner.

Staying Within Budget

Kastner says they have learned some lessons about budget control in previous projects that allowed them to stay right on track with this addition. “Construction mangers by themselves will keep track of the construction budget and do a pretty good job of it,” he says. “But we want to know about the entire budget – soft costs, architectural fees, construction, furniture, fixtures, everything.”

Lakeland developed an internal budget control and managed the budget themselves. “We know, virtually in real time, exactly how much we’ve committed… Once a month we’d just give senior management the top sheet of our budget, electronically, and they never once in four years asked any questions. If you are proactive and can demonstrate that you have your arms around the budget then they don’t have to ask any questions. You’ve got all the data,” says Kastner.

The project came in exactly as budgeted, a significant feat for such an enormous undertaking.

Being Truly Community Owned

The design elements also come from the preferences of the actual community members. People from the surrounding area were brought in and shown images and allowed to pick their favorites. “We took our cues from the people who live here,” says Kastner. “We let them give us the design direction.”

The hallways are filled with art selected by members of the community, including original pieces by local artists which fit the individual floor themes of rivers, orchards, vineyards, or dunes. An outdoor sculpture by a world-renown artist was placed so that it would be viewable by visitors to the hospital, as well as passersby.

“Everybody loves it,” says Kastner. “The physicians, the patients, the visitors – we’ve had very positive feedback. The only downside we’ve found so far is that some of the patients would like to stay longer. They say, ‘This is so much nicer than my home. Could I stay a couple of extra days?’”

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