URS Contractors Wrap Up The Health Tower

April 10, 2002
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — As the field of health care grows and changes, so do the facilities. The URS Corp. Healthcare Group is one that is facilitating those changes and working to bring health care facilities into the future.

The recently completed and newly expanded South Tower of Spectrum Hospital was planned and constructed by the Healthcare Group, led by manager Joe Greenen and made up of planners, project managers, architects and engineers.

In 1997 when two of the largest hospitals in West Michigan merged to form Spectrum Health, consolidation of inpatient services at Spectrum’s Butterworth campus was only part of the process.  The problem was that the existing downtown facility was already at or above its designated occupancy levels.

In order to solve that problem, Spectrum called in the services of the Healthcare Group. And as part of the Patient Care Services Plan, construction improvements and additions as a result of the merger, the solution came in the form of a $9.6 million, three-story addition totaling approximately 48,000 square feet, constructed atop the existing five-story South Tower.

The addition includes a general adult medical and surgical care floor, a floor for pediatric hematology/oncology/bone marrow transplant care, and a floor that houses mechanical support equipment.

“One of our greatest challenges was constructing the additional three floors on top of the already existing five floors,” said Art Veneklase, principal mechanical engineer of URS.

“When adding on, you still must keep everything in a controlled environment. So while we did move the patients that were on the top floor, we still had to be very careful about making sure that when we took off the roof that we still maintained a dry environment and kept harmful substances out as well as kept the good air inside the building.”

Another challenge came in the form of staying within the confines of Spectrum Health’s new advertising slogan, “The comfort of world-class care.”

The design had to allow peak functional and clinical performance while providing comfort, convenience and an aesthetically pleasing space for patients and their support groups. With that in mind, the Healthcare Group set out to create a place that supported the healing process.

According to Jeanne Roods, Spectrum’s director of Neuroscience Services, the facility is “a perfect blend of art and science that visually depicts our philosophy of providing care that comforts. The contemporary design conveys a sense of competence and expertise, while the use of color instills peace and supports healing.”

She said elements of the design help patients feel less like they are in a hospital. The corridors of the sixth floor adult medical-surgical unit are covered with rich wood-grain sheet vinyl flooring, adding warmth and countering vinyl’s typical sterile look — but without compromising infection control.

“When you are designing a part or entire hospital, you always have to take into consideration infection control, even with things like flooring and other materials used,” Veneklase said. “Then depending on what will be going on, on each floor it is necessary to take into consideration patient and staff safety. There are a higher level of (building) codes to be followed throughout the process.”

The corridors, 21 private patient rooms and one VIP patient suite, are awash in shades of cobalt, teal, olive and almond. Wood-grain desks and cabinets at the nursing stations lessen the clinical feel of the setting. The color mix is designed to provide a soothing atmosphere for those who spend time on the floor.

Colors are another key design element on the seventh floor pediatric hematology-oncology-bone marrow unit. The array of colors was selected to please younger children, while not too aged-down for teens.

“I firmly believe in the philosophy that kids need more than medicine to get well,” stated Jodi Bauers, manager of Spectrum’s Childlife Program. “A big challenge in the design of a pediatric unit is making it appropriate for infants and older adolescents. Color themes here have struck that balance.”

In addition to setting an overall mood, the colors underscore the tropical theme of the pediatric unit. Four tones of vinyl flooring throughout the corridors form gently curving waves reminiscent of a calm sea, overcoming the typically boring appearance of hospital floors.

Varied ceiling heights and shapes throughout are appealing and serve as way-finding icons, while the strong presence of the nurses’ station makes it readily apparent that it is the place to go for information.

“With the rapidly changing field of health care, it is important to make the changes to keep up to date but to also prepare for future expansions,” Veneklase said.

“From a technology standpoint there may be a piece of equipment that could become obsolete in a few years. At that point you want to make sure that your room is equipped to accommodate the switch and make room for the new equipment.

“You also have to make sure that the building is properly structurally supported,” he added. “When we started here, we thought they had prepared for an addition when the building was built but later learned that they hadn’t, and we had to add additional support.”

Convenience, comfort and privacy are the benefits of the nurse server alcoves built into each patient room. These lockable alcoves are accessible from both room and corridor. Small doors permit access to drawers that pull out from the patient side for dispensing supplies and from the corridor side for stocking supplies.

As a result, supplies can be distributed more efficiently, without disturbing patients. On the corridor side, each alcove includes a countertop for computerized charting. All patient rooms are also arranged around the exterior walls of the tower, taking full advantage of the city views.

Each room is equipped with a convertible chair/bed, a guest chair and a recliner. Footwalls have built-in units that house a TV and VCR, a sink, counter space and a clothes closet. Colored flooring gives the appearance of area rugs.

“We promote family-centered care at Spectrum,” Bauer stated. “We realize even little things are important when you are striving to provide state-of-the-art medical care in a home-like environment.

“Simply having a sink right in the room makes a big difference for the staff and families. We don’t have to go into the bathroom to wash up, and it is comforting for parents to see you wash your hands before caring for their children.”

Veneklase said the design of health care facilities involves a continuous education process. “Things are always changing, rules and regulations change and equipment and better ways of doing things are always developing, and we need to keep on top of them. We are also members of the American Society for Healthcare Engineering,” he said.

Ground has already been broken on the Heart Center, the next project at Spectrum in which URS is deeply involved. Veneklase said the project is currently phasing in.

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