It’s heartening to see the healthcare industry not only embracing sustainable design principles, but also taking it a step further and encouraging healthy lifestyles.
Not only are patients better served in recovery when their environment provides healthy indoor air quality, natural daylight, and inspiring artwork, but the entire healthcare system benefits when medical and support staff are themselves as healthy as possible. Hospital employees who are fit and relaxed make better decisions and deliver better care to patients.
Moreover, taking steps that reduce absenteeism, employee error, and staff turnover can go a long way toward keeping operating costs manageable and retaining the kind of talent that brings added prestige to a hospital.
To support this goal, Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) recently cut the ribbon on its new Livingwell Fitness Center, designed by New Haven, Connecticut-based architecture, art, and advisory firm Svigals + Partners. By encouraging employee fitness and relaxation, YNHH expects to enjoy a healthy return on the investment made to create the center.
The design of the new fitness center combines green building principles that promote occupant health, soothing aesthetics and artwork, and a fitness program proven to drive employee participation, administered by health management company MediFit. The result is an atmosphere of relaxation, which directly promotes the productivity, morale, and health of the hospital staff.
This will be no small, incremental benefit: With 1,008 beds among the Children’s Hospital, the Psychiatric Hospital, the Smilow Cancer Center, and the main facility, YNHH employs roughly 7,800 people, including 3,400 medical staffers. (The Yale-New Haven Health System is ranked as Connecticut’s sixth largest employer.)
In his remarks at the Livingwell ribbon-cutting, Kevin Myatt, YNHH senior vice president for human resources, stressed, “This center is for our employees who get up every day thinking about how to care for the needs of other people.” The new fitness center opened its doors just in time for 2012 New Year’s resolutions.
The warm-up phase
Among the goals for the new fitness center outlined by YNHH were sustainable design and a directive to promote and sustain an atmosphere of welcome, inclusion, and relaxation. The client’s commitment to health and well-being for its employees became the design charter for every aspect of the solution. The design team began to approach Livingwell as a balance between relaxation and energy, adhering to this concept throughout the process.
The team also applied its familiarity with “Boundless Resources,” Svigals + Partners’ proprietary approach to uncovering existing relationships that powerfully leverage individual endeavors, increasing their value and contribution to the whole.
The project location created significant constraints: the 13,000-square-foot wellness center would need to be built into the former Medical Center Pharmacy and YNHH Call Center, which was part of an adjacent parking garage. Adapting and retrofitting the two-story space would require a complete interior demolition, a partial exterior demolition on the ground floor façade, and, ultimately, the construction of a new mezzanine.
Most of the infrastructure had to remain intact, which meant adapting to the existing post-tension parking garage structure that surrounds the facility. In addition, the solutions for these technical challenges would have to be affordable, sustainable, and aligned with the project’s mission.
The large windows were retained to bring in natural daylight, enhancing occupant health while reducing energy consumption for artificial lighting; the natural illumination is dispersed by mirrored walls and diffused by installations of ceiling “cloud” panels. These groupings of curved panels set at various heights serve several purposes: They help activate and sculpt the ceiling in the large equipment room while also providing a cost-effective and aesthetically engaging way to conceal ductwork.