Reinventing the Recliner

The Empath recliner from Nurture by Steelcase works to make healthcare environments safer by paying attention to the details.

By Kylie Wroblaski

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    Researchers and designers spent more than 2,000 hours observing the interactions between caregivers and patients. Empath has been designed to reduce the stress and potential for injury for both groups. View larger

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    Empath is also offered with a variety of enhanced features to suit any healthcare environment, including adjustable headrests, a pull-out footrest, heat and massage settings, drainage bag holders and more. View larger

“For patients, the move from bed to chair is a milestone in their recovery,” Zimdar explains. “For caregivers, it’s an inherently difficult process due to patient limitations and the sheer number of times it’s performed. Caregivers risk back injuries and patients risk falls or injuries from dropping into hard, unforgiving arms. The design of Empath considers both the patient and caregiver, and helps to provide a safer, easier transfer process.”

Another observational session—this time with the Steelcase Retirees Club—helped influence the length of the lever controlling the back tilt of the recliner.

“We had it shorter, but when we worked with the retirees club, they realized that when they were fully reclined that they couldn’t reach the lever anymore—they kind of had to do a sit-up to reach the lever,” Rheault says. “We realized that we needed to lengthen the lever so that when someone is lying down, they can reach it.”

The immense amount of research and development leveraged in the design of Empath led to the incorporation of several other innovative features, including:

  • A central locking system for the casters, to make locking the chair in place easier
  • Dual flip down arms to provide flexibility
  • Dual-sided recline paddles to help users who struggle to reach the incline paddles
  • A soft urethane footrest scallop, which makes it easier for patients to get out of the chair by allowing their feet to be farther underneath their center of gravity

Empath has also been built to withstand the use and abuse that inevitably comes with the territory. The chassis and arm panels are reinforced, and the chair is completely constructed from steel, with all metal-to-metal connections. In addition, all of the components are replaceable, allowing for revitalization of the chair instead of disposal.

These seemingly small tweaks and innovations have earned the recliner rave reviews. Empath was awarded a prestigious Nightingale Award at the Healthcare Design conference in 2011, and according to Zimdar, Nurture has already exceeded its first year volume projections after less than six months on the market. But perhaps one of the greatest compliments came while showing it at a recent nursing conference.

“The nurses were trying out the chair and one of them said ‘This must have been designed by a nurse,’” Rheault recalls. “And that was the best compliment that you could ask for, because in her mind this really thought about all of their needs.”

Learn more about Empath at www.nurture.com/products/empath/.


Kylie Wroblaski is a former editor for BUILDINGS magazine, and has written previously about architecture and facilities management.


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