Behavioral healthcare design constitutes a growing percentage of healthcare design today. Many of the design criteria that drive any healthcare facility—creating humanized interior spaces that ease patient anxiety and improve the healthcare deliver process—also inspire the design of behavioral facilities.

Because of the emotionally sensitive nature of behavioral healthcare design, it is important to look for design choices that respect the patients’ dignity.

Consider these five concepts in your design decisions:
1. Familiar settings Evoking a homelike setting helps patients feel more relaxed. For Bethesda Rehabilitation Hospital for HealthEast Care System in St. Paul, HGA designed common spaces that recall the family living room, where patients recovering from traumatic head injuries can gather. A stone hearth, textured natural-slate wainscoting, wood-grain wall protectors, seating nooks, large-screen television built into a slate-and-wood surround, and fabric-wrapped panels with nature imagery emphasize a homier environment for patients, who often may stay six months or longer. The fabric panels, along with high noise reduction coefficient ceiling tiles, has the added benefit of buffering harsh sounds, while the rough-surface slate is forgiving to chips and scratches from heavy use.
2. Soothing interiors Choose calming finishes and colors. At the Institute for the Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (M.I.N.D. Institute) on the University of California Davis Medical Center campus, HGA designed interiors that are inviting to families yet not overly stimulating for easily distracted ASD patients. We specified comfortable furnishings, soft lighting, warm woods, subdued patterns and muted tones with unobtrusive yet cutting-edge technology. We also paid careful attention to detailing millwork—beveled edges incorporated into the millwork eliminate sharp, potentially dangerous corners.

We walked a fine line between using the same patterns and colors in all parts of the building so that it felt familiar, yet avoiding repetitive patterns in floor, wall or fabric selections that are distracting to ASD patients.
3. Regional materials Healthcare facilities should reflect their regional architecture and natural resources because patients respond better to the recognizable—despite the unfamiliar setting of being in a hospital. Again at the M.I.N.D. Institute, we included products that children would be familiar with in their homes—medium-toned woods, natural stones, and subtle colors—on a campus that includes covered walkways, grassy courtyards, majestic coastal oaks, and colorful flowers.
4. Connection to nature Look for ways to connect patients to the outdoors, whether through interior plantings, natural light and windows, or protected exterior spaces.
For the Sutter Roseville Medical Center Inpatient Acute Rehabilitation Institute in Roseville, California, we emphasized daylight and exterior views for patients recovering from stroke, brain or spinal-cord injury, and other neurological disorders. A first-level secured terrace overlooking Secret Ravine provides an outdoor therapy area to help patients navigate various outdoor surfaces and challenges.
5. Patient privacy The movement toward private patient rooms carries into behavior healthcare design, as well. Studies have indicated that patients may be less stressed and have a stronger sense of control over their own environment when they have their own rooms. Furnishings, colors and finishes reflecting a homier feel will help instill this sense of control.
The healthcare industry continues its paradigm shift in the treatment of behavior disorders—whether it’s traumatic head injury or other psychiatric disorders—and facilities will need to reflect a more humane approach to treating patients. The intent is to create healing, inspiring interiors that aid the healing process and enable patients to integrate back into their own surroundings as soon as possible.