As noted in my last post, a critical access hospital (CAH) is often the foundation of a community that stands alongside other prominent civic buildings.

CAHs help define the community; they culturally reflect the community's history and future while adding to its economic base with well-paying professional jobs.

Many CAHs, in fact, become a destination beyond healthcare needs. For instance, by offering community spaces, meeting rooms, and educational programming, hospitals can reach out to a wider market.

With more than a few CAHs that I've worked on, the cafeteria with its gourmet menu has become a dining destination because it's often one of the best restaurants in town.

Design truly has a powerful impact on small communities. As such, you should consider these points when designing a new CAH.

Welcoming image
Critical access hospitals are unique to each community, and they should reflect the town's architectural heritage. Several CAHs we designed for East Texas Medical Center (ETMC) Regional Health System to reflect the specific details of each community.

For instance, at ETMC Pittsburg we designed a hospital and rural clinic that are connected by a central glass entry and lobby to help integrate functions. Exterior overhangs shade the glass walls, which provide an open and welcoming image to the community.

As with most CAHs, the lobby is a multifunctional public space that directs customers to the services and other amenities.

Comfort and competence
The mission of critical access hospitals is to keep healthcare accessible to the community. A successful CAH should reflect comfort and competence to the patient base so they don't need to go to a larger hospital for basic care.

The architecture, technology, public amenities, location, and services all factor into projecting comfort and competence. The building must say it belongs to the community.   

Meet customer needs
Multiple stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process, from hospital ownership to physicians and nurses, and community members. Designing the right hospital is a balancing act that addresses the diverse needs of all stakeholders.

Ultimately, though, any hospital is about the customer—the patient. A hospital should recognize the needs of that community by emphasizing ease of access through roads, signage, and clear wayfinding that lead to the main entrance.

Once inside, everything should logically radiate off the main entrance so patients know where to go. Always cater to the patient in every design decision.