Healthcare facilities are experienced in their details: The support a side chair gives a new mother learning to hold her baby; long hours in a waiting room eased a bit by how it echoes home; a long hallway made navigable with less slippery flooring and a handrail at the ready. Healthcare interiors choices have great potential to directly impact patient outcomes, both for the good and bad, and this is particularly true when it comes to sustainability steps. But prioritizing sustainability in the selection process in interiors for desired outcomes has to get in line behind all the other, more pressing issues healthcare has to address, such as an aging workforce, strapped budgets, and on.
In addition, sustainability considerations are much more complex than those around energy efficiency, and pursuing sustainable interiors will only go a little ways towards a LEED certification. So it's not exactly surprising that healthcare has lagged behind other sectors in adopting sustainable interiors practices. Nevertheless, some key leaders are pursuing sustainable interiors despite all the challenges. Organizations like Ascension Health have gone as far as creating staffed positions to address sustainability directly. Even if a healthcare facility is still in its early stages of working out a sustainable interiors strategy, the good news is that incremental steps are the way to go, according to industry experts.
Standardizing to modular furniture. When Theresa Besse, interior designer, started at Gundersen Health System, she had a warehouse full of mismatched furniture which could hardly be deployed and still have a professional look in a space. In addition, furniture did not have modular components so when an accident happened on a chair, the whole unit was thrown out. She has since standardized to furniture with replaceable components, and tracks the documentation of water-resistant features and proper cleaning steps, which helps keep individual pieces in service longer.
Demountable walls. With even clinic space being signed into 20-year leases, Melisse Kuhn, project manager for the Portland VA Medical Center, was finding that fixed walls just didn't accommodate the changing needs of the space. Now they specify architectural demountable walls that are prewired and retrofit easily into existing facilities. They create flexibility to reconfigure the space as frequently as needed while eliminating construction waste (and mess) and satisfying requirements in outpatient clinics, even to create exam rooms.
Off-gassing off site. Before any of the furnishings or equipment crossed the threshold of Dell Children's Medical Center South Tower, they had first been taken to a warehouse facility, unpackaged, and allowed to off-gas for up to 30 days. "If there was any latent toxicity, it was important to let it off-gas in a way that wouldn't impact the facility," says Michele Van Hyfte, environmental stewardship manager for Seton Healthcare Family.
— Naomi Millán
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