The importance of thoughtful design in rural healthcare

By Becky Hansel

August 20, 2018
INVISION is honored to have been awarded a 2018 National Healthcare Design Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH) for the design of Story County Medical Center’s (SCMC) Outpatient Expansion. We appreciate the significance of the award being given to a small, critical access hospital as one of only seven projects worldwide chosen to receive the honor this year. The Healthcare Design Awards recognize the best of healthcare building design, healthcare planning, and healthcare design-oriented research” and the trends of healthcare facilities and the future direction of these facilities.”

How it began

SCMC is located in Nevada, Iowa, a town of roughly 7,000 people, is proof that a rural hospital can lead the way on a national level by focusing on serving the unique needs of its community. The hospital is on the edge of town surrounded by corn fields and bound by a state highway to the north and residences on the west. In 2008, before SCMC engaged with INVISION, their campus was split between two locations, two miles apart. The separation created inefficiencies in staffing and negatively impacted patient satisfaction. In 2014, with a desire to focus on community health and wellness, SCMC partnered with INVISION to complete a Master Plan. During that process, INVISION helped SCMC determine their most critical needs were to consolidate campuses and expand outpatient services. Our solution was a one-story, 36,000 square-foot addition that included a new main entrance along with primary care clinic and therapy services. The awards jury described the resulting design as an exquisitely controlled and detailed project”, going on to note the project deploys an excellent functional plan using an on-stage, off-stage’ clinical concept, and direct wayfinding for patients. An appropriate and inviting shift to wellness for a small community that says, The highest quality care is delivered here’.”

Unique challenges

Rural hospitals and communities face unique challenges, including aging demographics, growing number of residents with chronic illnesses, and demands for mental health services and specialty telehealth appointments. To serve these communities, a successful hospital must put the needs of the patients in the forefront while also considering the hospitals’ tight budgetary constraints. At SCMC, the building is deeply rooted in the community as well as the surrounding rural context, creating a specifically place-based design. The organization of the expansion simplifies and consolidates the campus’ functions while increasing efficiency, thereby improving patient and staff satisfaction. The success of this project states that a one-size-fits-all” approach is not the answer and that great design does have a place in rural communities.

A community center

With this Outpatient Expansion, SCMC showcases its forward-thinking care and creates a true community center for residents. Providing additional amenities like a fitness and education center establishes this rural hospital as an anchor for the neighboring community, bringing residents together around health and wellness. The design of the new care environments are oriented to maximize views and utilize natural daylighting strategies that provide an emotional and psychological benefit to patients. To ensure a more comfortable experience for the community’s aging population, natural materials are used throughout to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere while clear and intuitive wayfinding allows for easy navigation. The patient-centric care model that drove the clinic’s organization also allows for more collaboration among care teams with minimized walking distances and waiting times. Combining these many elements of design, the new building strives to promote health and wellness in the community while increasing patient satisfaction and comfort.

The creation of this building was a collaborative process between INVISION and SCMC to improve the function of the hospital and integrate it into the community, while also creating a showpiece for the organization. As described by SCMC CEO, Nate Thompson, The INVISION team helped us create a vision for our campus that was actionable and strategic. Once we had a thoughtful plan, they helped us execute quickly. Our first project created drastic improvements in the way our facilities support improved care for patients and workplace amenities for healthcare providers.” We look forward to our ongoing partnership and involvement in the community of Nevada and will continue our advocacy for the unique needs of rural hospitals, their communities and the impact of design on health and wellness.