Comforts of Home: Furnishing a Health Care Setting

NEW YORK — In every space people use, furniture is needed and creates an impression. For a space to be functional as well as healing, furniture needs to function in more ways than might be expected in a hotel or office. Patient room chairs may be used for rehab or used overnight by a loved one. The low tables in a waiting room might be used for a coffee break while waiting for a parent in surgery or for a child to do his homework while waiting for his annual physical.
When Array Architects sat down with the user groups of the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility to determine the furnishings of each space at the new 302-bed long-term care and skilled nursing facility, there were many features to consider. Varied patient acuity and mobility levels needed to be taken into account. Public spaces with many planned uses had to accommodate community members, patients, visitors and staff. Budget and durability for this public hospital were also key factors.
The owner, Health and Hospitals Corporation, dictated that a Culture Change Initiative was to accompany the move to a new facility. For many residents, this facility is their permanent home – their neighbors make up their community. To this end, it was essential that the furnishings not feel institutional. Array selected furniture and finishes that are of a residential scale, with a modern and urban aesthetic. Furniture features include warm woods and textiles with vibrant colors and patterns, which balances the desire for beautiful furniture and the ability to withstand heavy daily use for years to come. Inspiration came from the surrounding sight and sounds of the East Harlem neighborhood. In keeping with the neighborhood theme, each floor has a distinct signature color and vibe, which is reinforced through a rich art program.
To achieve consensus, weekly committee meetings were held with facility leaders with regular input from the focus groups that included a cross section of residents. The Array team conducted detailed reviews, selecting and approving furniture for all facility areas including lounges, dining rooms, long-term care patient units, skilled nursing resident units, clinical areas and offices. Unique program elements included worship spaces, a teaching kitchen, rich library and art rooms and finally a performance space used by patients, residents and the East Harlem community at large. These meetings allowed the clinicians who work in the spaces each day to express their wishes, concerns and experience with furniture, finishes and their impressions of what does and doesn’t work for the patient population in a long term health care environment.
Safety was paramount when considering patient and resident needs. Mobility limitations were accommodated and ergonomic features ensure comfort and reduce fall risk. For those patients and residents ambulatory enough to take advantage of the communal living and dining spaces, therapeutic gardens, worship spaces, etc. — their comfort must be maintained as they enter and leave their bedrooms. A safe route to the common areas must also be maintained. Array’s designers chose slip-resistant flooring in a low-contrast pattern to prevent patient falls as well as to prevent their “eyes playing tricks on them” with a busy floor pattern that those with impaired vision could perceive as uneven.
Variety and flexibility were key factors in the communal living room and dining spaces. Residents are empowered to engage with others in a generative setting or to have quiet moments of solitude with an expansive view of the surrounding community.
Resident living rooms were designed to accommodate different size groups with different interests. Game tables with chairs light enough for the residents to move independently were included alongside space for an electric hearth and sofas gathered around for reading and socializing. Game tables accommodate both chairs and wheelchairs comfortably. Computer stations are included in each Living Room for resident use. Large windows invite natural light and sight and sounds from the adjacent train line, which serves as an animated distraction.
A thoughtful and studied approach to comfort, safety, durability, flexibility and context ensure that caregivers, patients and residents have a beautiful and equitable environment that delights the senses every day.
Patricia Malick, AAHID, EDAC, LGB is a principal and practice area leader at Array Architects. She can be reached at pmalick@array-architects.com and on Twitter @patmalick. To read more thoughts on health care design, please visit www.array-architects.com/author/patmalick/.