Metro Cancer Center lobby eases patients’ suffering

April 10, 2009
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Being a five-time cancer survivor, Bob Israels, president and owner of Israels Designs for Living, knows a good health care environment from a bad one. He and his wife, Paulette, donated the time, talent and funding to furnish the lobby of Metro Health Cancer Center, which opened June 30 last year.

“Not to compare, but if you were to go downtown to a cancer center, it’s wonderfully made furniture which works just great for an office building. This is not an office building,” he said of the center’s lobby. “This is somebody’s home: When you become a cancer patient, this becomes your home, at least for a while.”

The lobby décor includes raw silk curtains, a fireplace, couches, tables and chairs for playing games or doing puzzles, and a TV. Just around the corner in the family room is a Nintendo Wii.

One of the unique challenges in designing a lobby in a cancer center is the concern about keeping furnishings germ-free.

“That’s where this silver ion product, which is woven right into the fabrics, comes in,” said Israels. “This silver ion product … will kill any microbes that go into it.”

Every upholstered surface in the earth-toned lobby uses Kryptonite fabric, which is made by W.L. Gore, a pioneer in the development and manufacture of such high-performance fabrics as Gore-Tex.

Dr. Michael Zakem, medical director of the Metro Health Cancer Center, commented on the importance of germ-free environments for cancer patients.

“When people are going through chemotherapy (and) cancer, they have enough issues to deal with. One of the big issues is infection,” said Zakem. “If this can even have a small impact on preventing them from having infections, then it’s important. No single complication when going through therapy is more devastating than infections.”

The goal of the space is threefold: first, to be responsive to cancer patient’s needs; secondly, to be welcoming and open to family members of all ages; and finally, to be a teacher.

“We wanted to create settings. You sit down and all of a sudden you want to talk to each other,” said Israels. “You don’t get an education just by reading books. Sometimes you get it from talking to other people or being in certain environments — environments, that’s a teacher too.”

In accord with the lobby, the treatment area is also designed to be relaxing and individualized, with each space having its own TV. Patients can also go outside on the patio to receive drip treatments. Israels recalled his experience with cancer and the effect of the environment when receiving treatments.

“You’ve got this long enduring thing where they keep hitting you with chemicals one right after another to try to kill the rest of it. Then you go to these places where they line you up like a bunch of cattle and you’re supposed to sit there. I call it sitting in the electric chair.”

Zakem said the lobby helps calm patients — an important part of the recovery process.

“I certainly think it is important that when people walk in the door, they feel comfortable. They’re not intimidated by the setting,” said Zakem. “It’s an important first step. It puts them at ease. It diverts them from thinking of why they’re here with this I.V. in their hand.”

Ease was a word Israels keyed in on.

“The word disease means ‘dis-ease,’” said Israels. “Your body is not at ease.”

Israels said that after going through the process so many times, he knew exactly what he would want in a treatment center lobby and, along with his wife, after whom the lobby was named, was honored to design the space. — Jake Himmelspach

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