The Journey To Becoming A Healthcare Design Changemaker
On day two of the Healthcare Design Conference, Michael Murphy, executive director and co-founder of MASS Design Group, was given The Center for Health Design's 2013 Changemaker Award.
Deeply involved in reshaping the way healthcare is delivered in developing countries by bringing architecture into the equation, Murphy shared with attendees the journey that brought him to this day.
When Murphy was 24 years old, his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just three weeks to live. Working internationally, Murphy returned to his family's home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to essentially be on "death watch," he said. As he waited, Murphy began picking up pet projects around the old Arts and Crafts home that his father had been working on for years.
Eventually, Murphy's dad returned home and joined Murphy on the project, the two moving from exterior to interior. Soon three weeks became six months, and six months became 1.5 years. The house was almost finished, and Murphy's father was free of cancer. "It was incredibly profound. Every day, working in our built environment can help us heal ourselves," he said. "There is an incredible relation between our environments and our health."
With that one experience, Murphy changed course, deciding to return to school to study architecture. And by taking that road, he had the opportunity to meet Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, who during a lecture on healthcare and buildings asked a pivotal question: "If you don't have a good enough home, how can you possibly get better?"
That was certainly the case in South Africa, where architects hadn't been leveraged in the facilities where Farmer worked. Murphy said that during a 2005 breakout of a drug-resistant strain of Tuberculosis, every patient died, treated in unventilated, congested and poorly lit spaces that weren't designed for infection control. "A visit to the hospital killed them," Murphy said.
And that begged the question, "If buildings are making us sick, how can they make us healthier?" Murphy said. The result of this journey is MASS Design Group, a firm Murphy co-founded with partner Alan Ricks. Murphy's work to transform the healthcare built environment in Rwanda and other developing countries earned him the Changemaker Award (to read more on Murphy and MASS Design, see Healthcare Design's Q&A with Murphy here.)
As part of the keynote presentation at the conference, Murphy sat down with Rosalyn Cama, president and principal, interior design, at Cama Inc., to discuss how his experiences can be translated by attendees to their work in the U.S. and abroad. Murphy advised to start by asking questions.
"We had to boil down the medical facility into its outcomes," he said. "The more we ask questions on what the impacts are of the built environment ... the more we'll be able to ask the questions of value and insert the value discussion first and not just the discussion of cost."
But Murphy stressed innovation, too. For Rwanda, it's critical for the nation to build what was a failed state devastated by genocide and war, in order to be viable today. It's moving quickly and unencumbered by codes that might not make sense, like restrictions against opening windows. "They're not burdened by a legacy of infrastructure or a regulatory environment that would keep them from moving fast," he said.
As for his one takeaway for the audience of healthcare designers, Murphy said the tide is turning and people are starting to listen and recognize the value that the built environment brings to the table. So it's important for the industry to be prepared to respond.
"Over the last decades, evidence-based design and tracking outcomes, it's starting to make a difference and audiences are ripe to listen. This is the future of the built environment. We have to be confident that we can tell that story, because they will be coming to us for the data, stories, and quantified outcomes."