Look Outside: Supporting Wellness Through Healthcare Campus Planning
A while ago, my husband and I took our dog to visit my family. We all decided to go out for a walk to enjoy the afternoon. But when I took to the street—leash in hand—something felt off. I realized it was because we were very literally walking down the street.
Back at home, we live in a 100-plus-year-old urban community built around now-defunct streetcar lines, with plenty of sidewalks and an easy grid layout that makes walking, jogging, and biking—for fitness or to grab some milk at the store—tremendously easy. But my folks' 1970s development is of another era, the kind tucked away off a main road, with an entry point flanked by small plazas of stores, car-centric and with no sidewalks in sight.
At some point between the construction of our two homes, a shift had taken place in the way people want to live and how our neighborhoods reflect that.
But that shift is reversing. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) just released its new report Building for Wellness: The Business Case as part of its Building Healthy Places initiative. The report examines the financial payback of incorporating amenities that promote health and wellness and how residential developers are pursuing the approach. The results so far are pretty favorable, with developers seeing positive market response, costs from inclusion of wellness components and maintenance of those pieces minimal, and programming widely used.
So what’s all this have to do with healthcare? Well, a lot.
Just as developers have figured out that building communities for wellness makes good business sense, we’re starting to see healthcare providers identifying financial drivers for exploring a similar direction, if not partnering with those same developers.
Some organizations, like Florida Hospital in Orlando, are pursuing the construction of greenfield health villages, or mixed-use communities anchored by a healthcare component. Villages traditionally include wellness-centered pieces, too, like fitness centers, walking trails, and healthy eating options, in addition to housing, hospitality, and retail services.
But what’s also being explored by providers is not to build a healthy community but to find a way to make an existing community healthier. Plenty of systems, from Cleveland Clinic to Kaiser Permanente, are opening up campuses to offer meeting rooms for wellness-inspired cooking classes, stop-smoking seminars, or cancer awareness sessions.
But more comprehensive approaches to campus planning are happening, too, to correct the path previously pursued to create hospitals and medical centers as towering structures surrounded by parking lots and offset from their communities. To that end, designers are focusing on the neighborhood interface by creating more welcoming entryways and walking paths to encourage local residents to take a lap through a healthcare campus during their own dog walks.
There are a lot of reasons this is happening now, and will likely continue. To start, people don’t seem to want to be isolated anymore, with the American population now much more heavily weighted in urban areas than suburban. With this desire for a live/work/play environment is also coming a focus on wellness, with self-monitoring devices like Fitbits and organic foods all the rage, translating to a desire for that live/work/play environment to be one that also supports a healthy lifestyle.
But what brings this all down to dollars and cents is the healthcare industry’s own shift to value over volume, meaning providers will see higher reimbursements for keeping people well rather than treating illness. There’s a huge opportunity for medical planners and designers to work with clients to see the big picture: The concept of keeping people well by becoming a stakeholder in the community surrounding a facility—where patients live—is starting to make a whole lot of sense.
For more on this topic, see the April 2014 issue of Healthcare Design and watch for posts here at HCDmagazine.com.