Stepping from Standard to Superior

June 13, 2002
Buildings 2002 Modernization Awards Grand Prize Winner: the Health Park At Wakemed, Raleigh, Nc
After much hard work, the interdisciplinary team decided upon a visually stunning town square park theme within a two-story atrium. “When you enter the park, with the height of the ceiling, the skylight, you really feel that you are outside. It is wide open,” says Friberg. Patients can now practice walking on various surfaces, including ramps, carpet, concrete, rubber, a wooden Japanese-style footbridge, and river stones. A dramatic leaf patterned carpet unifies the entire park area. And overhead, an equally dramatic skylight radiates daylight, adding to the outdoor effect. “I think what makes a successful project for any building owner is by respecting what each team member brings to the table,” says Ford.In the modernized space, patients can relearn skills such as how to shop in a real general store, load groceries in an actual car, use an ATM, cook a meal, and even pump gas. “One of the biggest challenges was creating an environment that was dynamic but also safe for people to exercise the skills for which it was created,” says Ford. The interior elements in the central park area mimic those likely found in neighboring small towns. The exterior of the facility was also modernized to ease outpatient drop off and pickups. In addition, the healthcare facility offers a relaxing environment for visiting family and friends of inpatients with a refreshment gazebo, a stately 15-foot town clock, and a soothing, babbling goldfish pond, complete with a rowboat and water lilies. “It gives the patients a place to work on their personal goals, and it is a great place for them to bring family and friends and relax while doing this very tiring and trying thing,” says Friberg.For children, the hospital had a separate therapy area. During the modernization, the standard Pediatric Playroom was transformed into a storybook castle with enclosed outside play area. With room for climbing, swinging, and sliding, this rehabilitation space is both functional and delightful.Together – at Work and PlayToday, both staff and patients work out together in the extensive exercise facilities with rows of brand new exercise equipment. Previously, staff and outpatients used separate exercise areas within the facility. Additionally, the facilities contain a half-court basketball court at the updated health club and increased storage for therapy equipment. The new equipment has attracted new patients and increased the staff’s excitement over the renovated space.The modernization also corrected key circulation problems in the facility. Previously, inpatients had to be wheeled from their patient rooms through an administrative office area to an elevator to access the original tiny dining room on the first floor. This was a time-consuming, arduous process. A new large-sized dining room for staff and patients was created on the second floor to improve circulation and provide the building occupants with a view of the park area. Access to the first floor is now gained by a roomy glass elevator that offers a view of the hospital’s new features.One of the most remarkable aspects of the modernization is the therapy pool. Before the renovation, patients were taken off-site for hydrotherapy. Now, a tranquil therapy pool benefits patients’ health, while a mosaic mural offers a lovely beach “view.” A marvel of engineering, the new pool is free of wall condensation and a chlorine smell. Waterproof baffles composed of sound-attenuating material trap pool noise and hide extensive ductwork. “We worked hard so that you don’t even know the pool is there,” says Bethune. Sculpted walls also mask the ductwork that provides moisture condensation and odor control. The hydrotherapy feature has become a big attraction at the rehab hospital among patients.A New Name for a New DestinationToday, the rehab hospital has been aptly renamed the Health Park. Visitors and patients of the Park enter and are greeted by the sight of a glass elevator, a generous sun-filled atrium, and a streetscape complete with general store, coffeehouse, bank, and gymnasium. The dining room and therapy pool overlook the 280-foot walking track that encircles the park area. Natural lighting enlivens this unexpected nature setting.The park area serves as a focal point, aiding in wayfinding. “Every space is connected to the park; there are plenty of visual cues to direct you,” explains Bethune. Colorful cloth awnings and signage also aid in directing patients, guests, and staff. The Health Park’s surprising transformation has lifted the morale of patients and staff; there is a renewed pride in the facility. “I’m proud we created a space that is uplifting, that draws people to it in a way that is almost magical,” says Bethune.In addition to serving the needs of the staff and patients, the Health Park now serves the larger community. Civic groups, such as the local chamber of commerce, are drawn to the space, and it has been used for numerous outside meetings and events. Moreover, the WakeMed Foundation uses the park area for its annual events that bring in the community to encourage exposure and interest in the healthcare organization.Members of the neighboring community can tour the facility with the hospital staff during these gatherings and learn more about the challenging process of returning injured patients to their normal lives. “It has allowed us to expose thousands of people to the concepts of rehab. It is getting the word out to the community,” says Friberg. Friberg stresses the importance of having a community hospital facility that welcomes and accommodates its neighbors.WakeMed Hospital has always been known for its inventive approach to facilities design. “They continue to raise the bar for FreemanWhite and we continue to raise the bar for ourselves,” says Ford. After the modernization, the demand for The Health Park at WakeMed has increased dramatically.  The waiting list for outpatient care surged from two days to three weeks. “The space was designed for a particular therapeutic reason and it has certainly, from our perspective, met and exceeded our expectations,” says Friberg.The Health Park at WakeMed has succeeded in its most important mission to inspire patients on their difficult journey back to wellness. And with imaginative design, WakeMed has taken a bold step to create a facility that enriches its community and establishes the healthcare organization as one of the nation’s premier rehabilitation facilities.Regina Raiford ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

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