Several trends are becoming increasingly important as baby boomers age and require elder healthcare services. Most patients are increasing the amount of time spent traveling to appointments when primary care physicians request medical tests oriented toward the diagnoses and treatments of an aging population. Diagnostic imaging equipment, needed more and more for healthy adults as well as those facing health issues, may only be available in hospitals, where waiting times can be extremely long in uncomfortable and nerve-wracking settings. In addition, older adults may have trouble obtaining transportation to the appointments or may require a family member to devote considerable amounts of time to helping out. As people age, medical care becomes increasingly complex and stressful, yet the environments patients must visit tend to be sterile and harsh, adding to anxiety.

To address these 21st century challenges, the Park Ridge Hospital set out to construct Laurel Park Medical Centre, a “one-stop shop” that locates primary care services and a Diagnostic Imaging Center within a medical office building. Selecting Laurel Park, a suburb of Hendersonville, North Carolina with an affluent community and high concentration of retired persons, the hospital knew that it would have to bring something extra to the project to appeal to the community. Thus, with a country club-like atmosphere and deluxe waiting services, Park Ridge Hospital created a unique experience that allows patients and visitors to be the focus, and recognizes that seniors' specific healthcare needs include transportation, social, and family concerns.

Working with the Park Ridge Hospital, Beverly Grant, a design-build general contractor and developer specializing in healthcare and assisted living facilities, hired Perkins Eastman for the design. Perkins Eastman brought to the project a willingness to think “outside the box.” Challenged to appeal to adult patients who may be changing their primary care providers, the firm designed a nonclinical environment to promote healing with evidence-based design, while also highlighting a holistic approach to health and sustainable design elements.

The building program encompasses primary care facilities, physical therapy, and diagnostic imaging. The Primary Care Center has exam rooms, a lab, a procedure room, and a large parlor waiting room (figure 1). The Diagnostic Imaging Center, with separate women's and men's waiting rooms, allows technicians to take x-rays, ultrasounds, mammograms, CT scans, and bone density tests. Unifying the entire program, a grand entry-foyer (figure 2) and covered drop-off (figure 3) welcome patients.

A pleasant parlor waiting room provides a relaxing atmosphere for patients and their families.

A grand entry-foyer welcomes arrivals to Laurel Park Centre

A covered drop-off provides easy access to the grand entry-foyer

One of the Centre's many advantages includes up-front parking-much easier for visitors to navigate than most hospital lots. In addition, a streamlined registration and check-in process saves time. In the future, a mobile MRI unit can be added, increasing the Centre's advantages. The primary intent of the interior design was to make the patient's experience enjoyable, whether he or she is there for an hour or for a day. Comfortable, residential-style furniture, engaging art and accessories, abundant natural light and views to the outside all combine to create a friendly, welcoming environment.

The design's special features include solid timber trusses and cedar brackets, with fireplaces made of massive river rocks (figures 1, 2), all taking cues from the woods and mountains nearby. In the grand waiting room, interior furnishings such as wingback chairs and sofas complement the architecture, and are warm and homey, not sterile. To keep patients and their friends and family actively entertained while they wait, the Centre offers built-in bookcases with reading material, a flat screen TV, and a large, colorful aquarium. A wireless Internet connection allows working visitors to stay productive when they bring laptops on trips with a parent, while two computer stations in the parlor offer additional Internet service.

Throughout, a warm color palette of maize, terra cotta, and moss green coordinate with the rich wood and stone hues and textures of the architectural finishes. Colors and patterns were selected to be easily seen and enjoyed by those with diminished eyesight. The lighting scheme is tailored specifically to reduce glare when reading and viewing the television.

Laurel Park eases anxiety for family members who must drop their loved ones off for medical care and testing. Since many seniors do not drive themselves, the waiting rooms have special importance as they wait for their ride or wait for the bus to get back home. Refreshments are offered from a coffee and juice bar with snacks. Elegant touches like vaulted, wood-coffered ceilings create an open and airy space, with French doors and arched windows.

Outside, landscaped areas create pleasant views (figure 4), with mature trees, a variety of indigenous plants, flowers, cobblestones, and a water feature. For older adults, floor transitions between one material and another were made as smooth as possible for wheelchairs and walkers to glide over, and self-opening doors add to ease of transition.

Outdoor landscaping was designed for senior-friendly transitioning throughout the area and provides easy access to the indoors.

Passive cooling strategies, such as overhangs on the east and west sides of the building, block summer sunlight, and thus reduce heat gain and the energy used for cooling the building. The design team selected indigenous materials such as rock and “pebble dash” stucco for its pleasing aesthetic and reduced travel distance from source to site. The design allows for sunlight to fill public spaces and other areas (figure 5), reducing usage of light fixtures. When lights are needed, a dual switch allows for 50% of lights to be turned off during the peak daylight hours.

Public spaces make use of natural sunlight during daytime hours and exterior overhangs provide passive cooling strategies by reducing heat gain in the building.

Results

Reactions to Laurel Park have been tremendous from both patients and staff, and the hospital is even investigating the viability of building a second facility. Park Ridge has been impressed by Perkins Eastman's experience with residential design and wanted to bring the feel of these other projects to the Centre. While the Centre offers luxurious accommodations, the services cost no more than is typical for medical care. The design, overall, was influential in recruiting staff. Private break room and lounge areas for staff feature the same high-quality design features found throughout the facility, and the staff turnover rate is very low.

The patients who visit the Centre feel that it appropriately calls attention to their specific needs in a respectful and considerate manner. With the first wave of boomers closing in on age 65, Laurel Park Medical Centre is putting a new face on healthcare facilities geared to today's older adults, who are accustomed to active and independent lives and stimulating, comfortable surroundings. D

Mary Anne Hammond, ASID, AAHID, at the time of writing, served as a Principal in Perkins Eastman's Charlotte, North Carolina office. Danielle Ball is Marketing Operations Manager at Laurel Park Medical Centre, Laurel Park, North Carolina.

For further information abut Laurel Park Medical Centre, visit http://www.parkridgehospital.org. For more information about Perkins Eastman, visit http://www.perkinseastman.com. To send your comments to the author and editors, e-mail hammond09d@ltlmagazine.com.

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Project Summary

Architect: Perkins Eastman

Client: Park Ridge Hospital

Completed: May 2007

Size: 18,900 sf

Total Cost: $2.6 million

Cost/Sq. Ft.: $140

Photography: Tim Buchman Photography

Design Environments for Aging 2009 2009 March;():14-16