St. Joseph's Hospital of West Bend, Wisconsin, opened in August 2005 as the nation's first hospital specifically designed to deliver safe, error-free medical treatment. It is a testament to the impact of progressive, process-led design as well as visionary leadership and staff empowerment in addressing healthcare's most significant challenge: medical error.

The vision of a patient-safe hospital came from the industry, hospital staff, and design team. Together, they identified and applied safety-focused design principles such as standardization, automation, and adaptation strategies—not seen in traditional healthcare design.

The 82-bed replacement facility offers front-door personal assistance and simplified 24-hour access through a single portal of entry for all patient services. The operational support functions are secluded from public access, offering service transport both vertically and horizontally. Public and patient pathways are separated, providing greater privacy for patients.

Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie style of architecture, the exterior echoes its strong horizontal lines and deep, sheltering eaves. Substantial fireplaces in public spaces are set against a backdrop of the scenic prairie and meandering walking trails. Craftsman-era rich wood tones and stained and patterned glass create a warm, inviting atmosphere reminiscent of a winter ski lodge. The ceiling formation in the main lobby creates a directional rhythm that draws the eye toward the two-story view, adorned by glass, stone, brick, and wood. Natural light permeates the interiors. Natural colors and materials are used throughout the facility to promote healing and provide harmony from the exterior to the interior spaces. Materials were carefully selected to be environment-friendly, slip-resistant, and acoustically resistive, and to maximize infection control.

The all-private-room accommodations are functional, efficient, and identically configured to enhance safety through built-in familiarity. Twenty-six separate light fixtures per room provide indirect lighting that can be adjusted by the patient, and a large window provides natural light and views of the surrounding prairie. Window glass was chosen for its ability to prevent changes in skin tones, enabling doctors to make more accurate assessments. Each room offers excellent patient visibility for staff from an attached alcove that contains patient-specific documentation, medication, supply, and dispense functions.

Project category: New construction (completed June 2005)

Chief administrator: John Reiling, President and Chief Executive Officer, (262) 334-5533

Firm: Gresham, Smith and Partners, (615) 770-8100

Design team: Thomas K. Wallen, AIA, Principal-in-Charge; David J. Stewart, AIA, Project Manager; J. Brent Hughes, Project Coordinator; Penn O'Briant, Technical Specialist; Teresa L. Belsky, RN, Clinical Specialist

Total building area (sq. ft.): 191,300

Construction cost/sq. ft.: $214

Total construction cost (excluding land): $41,000,000


Outpatient services such as surgery and emergency can share adjacent exam and treatment rooms to adapt to changing census demands. Facility growth and changes have been carefully considered to meet the technologic and automation demands of the future, without disrupting the necessary department adjacencies and vital traffic-flow patterns.