Fresh solutions to serving the needs of patients and families within the care environment were on display in The Center for Health Design’s 2020 Healthcare Environment Awards.

The annual program, conducted in partnership with Healthcare Design magazine, celebrates how design can improve safety, enhance experiences, increase organizational efficiency, and improve outcomes.

This year’s award categories included acute care facilities, ambulatory care facilities, COVID-19 response acute care facilities, and student design work. Here’s a look as some of the winning solutions that stood out this year.

Acute care winner: Mercyhealth, Javon Bea Hospital and Physicians Clinic—Riverside

Recognizing a regional gap in care, Mercyhealth set out to design and build a new 194-bed hospital and clinic in Rockford, Ill., in just 28 months—25 percent faster than is typical for a building of its size and complexity, says Matthew Sanders, associate vice president, lead architectural designer, and project principal at AECOM (Minneapolis), which submitted the project.

To ensure the design solutions for Mercyhealth, Javon Bea Hospital and Physicians Clinic—Riverside addressed the needs of diverse stakeholders, focus groups were held with the design team, the health system’s leadership team, former patients and families, and staff, with feedback informing the patient experience design process. A series of six experience objectives were then created to further guide design goals and solutions.

For example, aiming to enhance convenience and reduce stress, the facility includes three distinct entrances for adults, women/children, and outpatient surgery. To promote healing, comfort, and wellness, the team focused on considering the entire sensory experience, resulting in a focus on delivering access to daylight and outdoor spaces and amber night lighting to support sleep.

“Building interiors that encourage movement, incorporate nature, increase natural light, provide good acoustics, and integrate pleasing color and texture all work together to promote mental wellness,” says Cynthia Saathoff, associate principal and lead interior designer at AECOM.  “Design needs to be a holistic approach to be successful.”

(Image credit: Corey Gaffer Photography)

Spencer Cancer Center, East Alabama Medical Center

In response to growing demand for cancer services in the region, Spencer Cancer Center, East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Ala., set out to create a new freestanding cancer center that would bring previously scattered services together under one roof. Project goals also included delivering an improved patient experience through wellness and EBD features. Guided by TRO Jung/Brannen, the design concept aimed to create a “modern-style building with the feel of an art museum and place it in nature,” says Doug McCurry, partner and principal at TRO Jung/Brannen (Birmingham, Ala.), which submitted the project.

Using the existing landscape to guide the flow of the 59,596-square-foot building, the project team incorporated picturesque views to the surrounding natural woodlands and added two-story rooms with clerestory windows to provide indirect natural light. Furthermore, the design concept incorporated neutral finishes to allow color in the artwork and furnishings to stand out, while natural materials, including wood-grain flooring and ceiling accents, stone building base, and landscape walls add warm touches.

“In the end, when the design, the custom glass art, the hand-blown chandelier, and the landscaping came together, it created ‘healing art,’” McCurry says.

(Image credit: Tim Hursley)

Airborne Infection Isolation Room Module System

The Airborne Infection Isolation Room Module System was conceived early in the pandemic to meet healthcare organizations’ need for surge capacity. HGA and The Boldt Company teamed up on the concept, setting its sights on delivering a modular, prefabricated acuity-adaptable inpatient unit that was affordable and could be shipped and installed within 3-4 weeks.

Designing without a client, the team worked with a variety of users, including critical care nurses and process engineers, to gather input and test design concepts using virtual reality to ensure efficient operations and give real-time feedback. The first version featured a commercially shippable unit and systems that were readily available to avoid being impacted by an uncertain supply chain.

“We had to be wildly creative about how we fit out that space to meet the needs of our clients,” says Kurt Spiering, healthcare sector leader at HGA (Milwaukee) and principal planner and designer of the module system.

While the original design, which was installed in several locations, was intended to be a short-term solution, Spiering says the project team soon realized that clients wanted to use it longer, so work began on a second version (shown), which includes improved aesthetics such as a window in the patient room to provide views to the outside and allow family members to “visit” when restrictions are in place, as well as environmental graphics to provide positive distractions.

(Image credit: HGA)

Transitional Model for Stroke Rehabilitation Clinics

Recognizing that patient rehabilitation can last up to several months, Maja Kevdzija, research and teaching associate at Technische Universität Dresden, Faculty of Architecture, set out to design a new clinic model that addresses and improves the independence and mobility of stroke inpatients during rehabilitation. The Transitional Model for Stroke Rehabilitation Clinics model was named Student Winner for Post-Graduate Project.

The project is the main outcome of Kevdzija’s PhD studies, during which she identified problem areas in the built environment of rehabilitation clinics, including wayfinding, distances between spaces, width of corridors, flooring, and physical obstacles. Data collected in seven rehabilitation clinics helped guide the design process as well as consultations with four chief physicians of rehabilitation clinics on the main ideas of the design model, which is organized in three levels to provide different environments that support patients’ mobility on their transition towards recovery.

During her research, Kevdzija says wayfinding was found to be a significant issue for all investigated groups of stroke patients, regardless of their mobility level or rehabilitation phase. “The main reasons for wayfinding problems were found to be corridor symmetry in the decision nodes, the similarity of floors when exiting the elevator, and layout complexity,” she says. Solutions to ease wayfinding presented in the model range from providing a clear overview of the whole ward with a clear center to creating different visual identities for each of the common spaces to using landmarks to provide orientation cues and memorable locations as well as differentiating the environments on each floor at the elevator exits.

Kevdzija notes the Transitional Model moves away from the “same for all” type of design to offer a variety of environments that support patients’ transition towards recovery. “When stroke patients with different health conditions are accommodated in the same wards with long distances to therapy areas and an often unclear organization of the whole building, this creates significant challenges in the built environment for patients that are in the earlier rehabilitation stages. As a result, they are brought to therapies by a transfer service which contributes to their feeling of loss of control after a stroke.

“The goal of the proposed new model was to provide specifically designed environments for different patient groups in three rehabilitation stages. Because the design targeted patients’ different spatial needs, it aimed to offer the maximum opportunity for patients to be active and independent and to contribute to their psychological well-being and recovery process,” she says.

(Image credit: Maja Kevdzija)

 NOLA Behavioral Health Inpatient Facility

The Student Winner for Graduate Project, submitted by Samia Mansour and Juhyun So, from the University of Kansas, Department of Architecture, aims to address the issue of a high concentration of unique behavioral health issues for all age groups in New Orleans, as well as a high percentage of the homeless population in this area suffering from behavioral issues such as substance abuse.

The project is a 48-bed behavioral health hospital adjacent to the University Medical Center in New Orleans that’s designed at a home-base for a full range of behavioral health services for the area’s underserved user groups. The facility is organized into three 16-bed inpatient units for geriatric, adult, and adolescent patients; an outpatient behavioral health clinic; and a homeless rehabilitation center. Additionally, nature, music, arts, nutrition, as well as physical activities are integrated in the holistic healing process for mental health recovery and prevention.

Key design concepts throughout the entire project were derived from a thorough literature review on best practices and evidence-based research on design features proven to aid in the recovery process for behavioral health patients. Key design concepts of the design include maximized greenspace, natural lighting, inclusive spaces, and a welcoming environment.

“The design of our facility represents a new approach to behavioral health design by developing a very intentional form that in itself creates a healing environment for the patients. Through our evidence-based research, we found that outdoor space and natural light were key factors that contribute to faster recovery times and higher patient satisfaction,” Mansour says. “Due to this research, our building form is narrow to allow natural light to flood the space and is rotated to organically create courtyards for each inpatient unit. Each courtyard is uniquely designed to accommodate the specific behavioral health needs of the patients.”

Furthermore, Mansour and So sought to remove the stigma associated with behavioral health by integrating the hospital into the community. For example, use of the recovery mall/gym was expanded to serve not only patients but the public during after-hours. “Once establishing this as a community function, we strategically placed it on the busiest corner next to the existing bus stops and main pedestrian pathway to ensure that it is easily accessible to everyone,” So says.

“The recovery mall begins to act as a ‘pavilion in the park’ and is surrounded by various outdoor functions such as an amphitheater, playground, and outdoor gym, which creates an environment that welcomes everyone. This design feature intends to remove the stigma associated with behavioral health by establishing the facility as a space for the entire community and not an isolated place that is unapproachable and viewed negatively.”

(Image credit: University of Kansas, Samia Mansour and Juhyun So)

2020 Healthcare Environment Awards

  • Acute Care Winner—Mercyhealth, Javon Bea Hospital and Physician Clinic—Riverside, submitted by AECOM
  • COVID-Response Acute Care Winner—STAAT Mod, submitted by HGA and The Boldt Company
  • Ambulatory Care Winner—Spencer Cancer Center, East Alabama Medical Center, submitted by TRO Jung/Brannen
  • Student Winner for Post-Graduate Project—Transitional Model for Stroke Rehabilitation Clinics, submitted by Maja Kevdzija, Technische Universität Dresden, Faculty of Architecture
  • Student Winner for Graduate Project—NOLA Behavioral Health Inpatient Facility, submitted by Samia Mansour and Juhyun So, The University of Kansas, Department of Architecture

Honorable mention:

  • Acute Care Honorable Mention—Banner University Medical Center Tucson, submitted by Shepley Bulfinch
  • COVID-Response Acute Care Honorable Mention—McCormick Place Alternative Care Facility, submitted by Stantec Architecture
  • Ambulatory Care Honorable Mention—Kaiser Permanente Clairemont Mesa Medical Offices, submitted by Architects HGW (Hanna Gabriel Wells)
  • Student Honorable Mention for Graduate Project—Zero-conflict emergency department, submitted by Nastaran Hashemi, Texas Tech University
  • Student Honorable Mention for Graduate Project—Catena Healthworks, submitted by Ravideep Singh and Sharanya Reddy, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

For more coverage on the winners, see Healthcare Design’s December issue or hear from the award recipients themselves by watching the program presented during last month’s HCD Virtual and now available to registered attendees on demand at