While hospices follow many of the same health codes as hospitals, the patient and staff needs are different, necessitating some shifts in design thinking. While some design decisions are identical to hospitals, such as 8-foot-wide hallways, sprinkler systems and handrails, “we need to be very tailored and appropriate to what’s happening with a person who is wrapping up his life,” says Burdette. “That means a bigger room, where they can spend time with family and friends. The family may come at any hour of the day or night, and the patients will stay for quite some time, so we need custom millwork for the family and the patient where they can store personal items. We don’t want to see tangles of cords and vials. We tuck them out of sight behind the headwall. It’s not about measuring the last cc of medicine; it’s about the patient being comfortable and taken care of.”
“These hospices are designed like little pods because we want the families to have their own places,” she adds. “They need to get out of the patient rooms sometimes, and we’ve learned that when you put a living area down a hallway, it’s not used. Psychologically, the family member won’t go far away from the patient, so we group the patient rooms around a living area. The doors open into that area and family is within calling distance of the patient. The family unit is knitted into the hospice principal.”
"Windows and natural light are very important so that patients and caretakers can always see the trees and sky. These things lift the spirit. We talk about this from evidence-based design. We don’t have a lot of scientific research to go on, but we know instinctually that it’s a good thing."
Using evidence-based design principals, Sickeler and Burdette strive to create a home-like environment in each hospice space via the selection of fabrics, furniture and décor. In the case of Willson Hospice House, says Sickeler, wood was an obvious choice. To create a sense of warmth and ambience within the spaces, the team used cedar for large timber pieces, poplar in patient rooms and for bookcases, painted pine in the lobby, cork in the children’s area and chapel, and bamboo for general flooring. (Patient rooms are floored with linoleum.)
“There is something about wood and nature that helps people feel better,” says Sickeler. “It’s soothing on the eyes. White is very difficult to look at for a long period of time because of the high contrast. Wood tones are warm and do not tire you out. All of these things have psychological and physiological effects. The pattern on the floor creates what is called ‘positive distraction.’ Windows and natural light are very important so that patients and caretakers can always see the trees and sky. These things lift the spirit. We talk about this from evidence-based design. We don’t have a lot of scientific research to go on, but we know instinctually that it’s a good thing.”
The project makes use of numerous sustainable touches, including recycled content, “which helps immensely from an allergy standpoint,” according to Sickeler, who adds that a significant challenge of the project was in working with water-based stains and the extensive amount of wood specified for the project.
“The challenge is [the stains’] inability to stay adhered. We had to make sure everything was dried out and that we could put our materials down and it would stick. That’s a challenge every designer faces if they’re doing green or sustainable projects with natural flooring or water-based materials. They are not as durable as the old caustic ones, but we make sure we always use the water-based ones.”