I visited Sunrise Children's Hospital yesterday as part of the Facility Tours program offered at the HEALTHCARE DESIGN.10 conference in Las Vegas, and to call it an eye-opening experience is an understatement. Architecturally speaking, Sunrise isn't the most striking facility I've ever seen -- the 244-bed, 208,000-square-foot facility recently completed a six-phase renovation to add to the original 1972 and 1983 structures, which remain mainly intact. This led to some challenges with floor-to-floor height, of course, but the facility still works functionally and aesthetically. Each floor is "themed" and the decor is whimsical and childlike without being cloying or heavy-handed.

But the real success of Sunrise Children's Hospital is clearly the functionality for nursing staff -- and therefore for patients -- which resulted from input during the design process. Things were designed here to make everything more efficient, and the large banners hanging on and inside of the building proclaiming Sunrise as a "Consumer Choice Award Winner 14 Years in a Row" are surely no accident. Design choices were made to keep nurses at the bedside, to aid in infection control, to accomodate anxious families, and to minimize disruption to the patients. As Nevada's largest, most comprehensive children's hospital, it is heartening to know that Sunrise puts the children first.

The most striking thing about the tour, however, had nothing to do with the building itself. So much of what we do in the healthcare design industry -- and especially in my line of work -- is thought of in the abstract, on paper or a computer screen. But a visit like this to a fully functioning building filled with sick children, some of them tiny infants, served as a timely wake-up call for me as to why we do all this in the first place. Every crying baby tugged on heartstrings, and suddenly the design methods and choices made at Sunrise made all the sense on the world. It may not look like a world-class hotel, but at the end of the day, that doesn't matter in the slightest to a parent triumphantly walking out of the hosptial with a healthy child.