Skilled healthcare architects, planners and designers do more than mold static spaces, they focus on the overall healing environment. As an architect and interior designer myself, I’ve personally come to understand how powerful the impact of space can have on a patient’s psyche – reaching far beyond the compassionate hands of a nurse and into the surroundings.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) cites in a factsheet published in 2013 that 1 in 4 adult Americans will experience a mental disorder in a given year. With such a significant sector of the population affected by mental illness it is imperative that we understand how to design space to aid in the healing process.

While designing the psych med unit at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids, we were tasked with creating a healing environment for the aging population with specific focus on respect, dignity, privacy, safety and the overall quality of the patient’s life. With a laundry list of criteria and priorities, it is difficult to balance form and function with creating an aesthetically pleasing environment.

Saint Mary's PMU designed by Progressive AE

Saint Mary's PMU designed by Progressive AE

Saint Mary's PMU designed by Progressive AE

Simple tips:

  • Start with the end in mind and create safety check points along the way
  • Bring in as much natural light as possible by opening up center spaces to:
    • Allow patient’s to acclimate themselves to the time of day
    • Enable their circadian rhythm to function properly
    • Improve sleep patterns
    • Decrease agitation and potentially aggressive behavior
  • Flood the room with nature to provide a sense of calmness
  • Create space for each patient that allows a sense of individualism and choice
  • Guide each patient towards designated spaces while blending in staff support
  • High contrasting materials and designs work to catch attention and draw them in, while using low contrasting materials to initiate the opposite effect

By implementing a few key characteristics into the space, we were able to see astounding results within the first two years of occupancy including reduction in aggressive behavior, reduction in fall risk, increase in patient satisfaction and increase in nurse satisfaction – just to name a few.

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