Huelat Parimucha: Barbara Huelat, President

by HCE Exchange on May 2, 2011

The architectural and design firm of Huelat Parimucha began twenty years ago with the mission of improving patient outcomes—physically, spiritually and emotionally—through the creation of healing environments. The firm is based in Alexandria, Virginia, and has built a reputation locally, nationally and internationally over the past two decades. Among their clients are Potomac Hospital, Washington Hospital Center, George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates and the Veteran’s Administration (VA).

“Our strongest level of expertise is in the hospital environment itself, in acute care,” Barbara Huelat, President, said. “We complete the interior design, the interior architecture and the architecture itself. We have a very narrow focus, even for a healthcare design firm, which focuses on the patients themselves and the people that use the facility, including staff.”

Healing the Whole Person

Huelat Parimucha is a Planetree Certified design firm, and a member of Planetree’s Visionary Design Network. Planetree is a non-profit organization which began in the 1970s as a grassroots movement dedicated to advancing patient-centered care. It takes its name from the favored teaching site of the father of western medicine, Hippocrates, who was said to have taught his students in ancient Greece from beneath the shade of the Planetree.

Adding the VA as one of their most recent clients, Huelat said the focus of healthcare in this nation is about to change on a large scale. “The VA is now working toward becoming Planetree certified. As the largest provider of healthcare in the world, if they go Planetree, we are going to see a different quality of care focus everywhere.”

Growing a Healthcare Design Firm

The addition of larger clients such as the VA, of course, means that this relatively small firm of eight individuals will grow.

“Getting and keeping good people who are both talented, as well as being committed to the patient-centered philosophy has always been a challenge,” Huelat said. “Now that we are growing larger, we are seeing the new challenge is how to keep connected. When you are a small firm, it’s easy to stay connected with all the projects. Through the process of growing larger, little things fall through the cracks; little things being the simple things, a thought here or there that just wasn’t passed on. That’s our biggest challenge right now, staying connected on a personal level with all the projects, all the team players and all the consultants.”

Because they are starting with such a strong core team of individuals, however, Huelat is optimistic that they will see the firm double in size within the next three years or so.

“The people we have are intimately involved and passionate about what we do,” Huelat said. “Keeping people in the loop and in tune with the projects—that’s really important—and keeping people in the link with our staff meetings and our reviews and keeping everybody in tune with the project is really important. That has been our success. We have been able to meet and exceed our client’s expectations on all projects. I have to acknowledge that our people who work on the projects are really committed; it’s not just a job, it’s a life experience.”

Improving the Patient Experience

Each job Huelat Parimucha takes on begins with a study of the individuals who are being served. Where are they from? What is their income? What has brought them to this place in their lives and to this particular healthcare facility? Once the patient experience is understood, design can begin.

“You think of these real people and start to ask what they are looking for in their lives,” Huelat said. “We design from that perspective…to help them have better outcomes, better relationships and to get on with their life. The environment plays a major role in that.”

Huelat Parimucha partners closely with Planetree because the missions of the two organizations are well in line to support each other. They do Planetree evaluations for other facilities. They make design recommendations. As their part of advancing the mission of both organizations, they speak and present about designing for the patient experience at every opportunity.

“We are very proactive in sharing what we’ve learned in the healthcare environment with others to make a better healthcare environment,” Huelat said.

“We’re looking at healthcare reform initiatives that are going to be launched across the country,” Huelat added.  “We’d like it to be part of these new standards for initiatives that are growing up out of the healthcare reform as we think we can make a big difference there. When you are really dealing with what is best for the patient, it isn’t always what’s being built today, and since our focus is what’s best for the patient, if we can provide some insight into what we’ve learned all these years, we can help set a new standard.”

-by T.M. Simmons

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