Recently my wife and I visited friends who had built their own house. Opening from their front porch, they had a beautiful, hand-crafted and carved oak door. Of course, we didn’t actually see it until later in our visit, because we went in the kitchen door, like most welcome visitors.

That distinctive door wasn’t appreciated the way it was designed, and all because it’s in the wrong place. It's a critical lesson to consider when designing to “right-size” a rural hospital. 

The “front door” of a rural hospital can be one of its most important design features. The canopy for visitors and patients should protect and welcome guests. The front lobby, information desk, and waiting areas are often the best place to focus limited resources to create architectural features and upgrade finishes. 

However, this investment only makes sense when it’s carefully balanced with the right solution for the community and the hospital.

Most obviously, this investment needs to be at the door that’s actually used by the community. With other entrances dictated by the need for ambulance entries, patient discharge, or simply fire codes, patients and visitors frequently learn to use entrances other than the front door.

Thoughtful design is needed to ensure that the designated main entry is indeed the one that's most convenient for visitors to the facility.  

This same focus on creating the right entry for the hospital is also tied to staffing and patient flow. 

For large urban hospitals, separate main entrance and ambulatory emergency entrances are  musts. However, for many critical access hospitals, the right answer will be to combine these two entrances within a single canopy and vestibule.  

Combining these functions allows both a better use of architectural dollars and more efficient staffing for greeting and security.   

Every facility is different, but understanding these unique staffing needs is critical for creating the right entry sequence for a hospital.

Even after determining the right entry sequence for a facility, it’s still important to determine the right architectural features for a given community. Travertine and inlaid wood paneling are right for some environments, but may fail to resonate in some rural towns.

To be truly welcoming, the design of the lobby and entry must flow from the values and sensibilities of the community.

In the next couple of posts, we’ll right-size one of the most “critical” elements of design for critical access hospitals: designing for staffing efficiency.