Among the many events that took place to kick off the 2012 HEALTHCARE DESIGN Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., it was with great anticipation that I joined the facility tour of Adelante Healthcare Community Center in Mesa, Ariz. What began as a magnet clinic for migrants in 1979 has now blossomed into a 501(c) nonprofit federally qualified health center with seven sites serving approximately 30, 000 patients.

When Avein Saaty-Tafoya, CEO, Adelante Healthcare Mesa, embarked on her goal of helping to create a comprehensive community healthcare center or “safety-net clinic” in an area where it was most needed, she knew it had to serve a local population that’s now comprised of 14 different immigrant groups and not just immigrant workers from Mexico and Latin America. Jain Malkin was asked to come onboard and translate the principals and meaning of evidence-based design for this Pebble Project healthcare center as well as tie in the needs of the different cultures.

As a patient-centered medical home, Adelante brings a complete range of services all under one roof. From integrated behavioral health, obstetrics/gynecology, and dental to audiology and internal medicine, the center aims to redirect the underinsured and uninsured away from the emergency room.

Inexpensive, unique signage adds to the calming colorful palette of the spaces. The geography of the surrounding Arizona desert gave Malkin her inspiration to use water as the underlying theme throughout the building. The space planning includes a continuous circulation spine for staff “off-stage” to allow the flexibility of staffing different areas and departments according to patient flow without disrupting visitors. The various departments have their own color schemes and each have two open waiting spaces separating those who are well from the sick to help with infection control. Additionally there are exam rooms that can be accessed from the exterior by patients who are highly contagious.

Of particular interest was the layout of exam rooms partnered with “talking rooms” next door. These 10×12 talking rooms gives the physician adequate space to include the patient’s family and talk about test results, treatment options, or health concerns. If an examination is needed, the connecting door to the exam room allows the patient to step next door and disrobe before the physician enters while the family stays in the talking room. This idea may help to free up exam rooms and address lack of seating for family members who need to accompany the patient.

Other design features include the abundance of natural lighting, open department spaces for a sense of transparency, slimline cabinetry, carpet tiles and noise reduction acoustic tiles to lessen echoes and mute loud sounds, and decentralized care stations.

Brian Mar from One World Properties spoke about the tight design-build timeline that was in place for this facility. From approval of design to the day of opening, the 42, 500-square-foot project, built on 2.38 acres, took approximately 10 ½ months to complete. Adelante is seeking LEED Platinum certification for its many sustainable and energy-efficient interior features. The center has a parking share agreement with an adult education center that is on the site.

Adelante Health is continuing on the path of evidence-based design research that will provide the needed data to show what works and what doesn’t. Look for more information on Adelante Health here and from the community center as it hopes provide post-occupancy evaluations in the future.