While the healthcare issues and design challenges faced on other continents may differ, there's still much that can be learned and adapted to the work being done in North America. That was the message from MASS Design Group, which has built a career specializing in healthcare facility design outside the U.S., at the Healthcare Design Conference in San Diego.
For example, a project in South America or Africa may be challenged with access to fresh water supplies, modern building systems, readily available materials, and a trained and skilled workforce, but it  can also face fewer existing codes and regulations and less inherited buildings that restrict design and renovation ideas.
The result can be solutions that lead to different design approaches and building structures that address issues related to resiliency, specific user needs, and providing communities of care.
During the session "Designing for Health: Insights and Inspiration from the Global South," Sophia Angelis, research associate, and Amie Shao, research manager, MASS Design Group, talked about translating these global lessons to design problems closer to home.
For example, for the Butaro District Hospital in Rwanda, the design team created a patient ward with beds oriented to face walls of windows that provided views to the outside as well as natural ventilation.
Since electrical outages are common, the facility has several built-in redundancy features, such as operable windows, fixed open louvres, UVGI fixtures that help purify air, and a large diameter fan that helps draw air up and out.
"Resiliency is important to think about in infrastructure planning," Shao said.
For Nyanza Hospital in Rwanda, large stacked chimneys are used to help pull air out of the ward, while large screens on the facade can be opened to also bring in fresh air into the facility
Following these projects, the firm had the opportunity to look at addressing resiliency at  Northern Westchester Hospital in New York. Using inspiration and lessons from these global projects, the firm proposed updating the facility by removing the existing concrete facade with a double skin layer that would provide ventilation.
The speakers also touched on addressing specific user groups and their needs within a facility. During a project for Redemption Pediatric Hospital in Liberia, they took the opportunity to ask: What does it mean to design for children?
The design solutions included created play spaces in the atrium that were accessible to the young patients, but within view of those confined to a bed who still wanted to see the action.
When working on the cerebral palsy center for Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio, they knew their approach also needed to address the needs of a diverse, younger patient population. "Universal codes fit no one," the speakers said.
The Cincinnati Children's facility put handrails on the walls at three different heights and modified door knob heights in recognition of the range of patient ages and disabilities that would be using the facility.
"How can we look to unexpected places to inspire and change," Angelis said.