AIA, associate vice president, architecture, CannonDesign, Grand Island, N.Y.

Vito has made it her mission to shift the paradigm around mental illness and bring a sense of dignity to clinicians, staff, and patients through her work. She joined CannonDesign in 2014 and quickly began focusing specifically on the programming, planning, and design of behavioral healthcare facilities.

She’s been instrumental in bringing new ideas to the table for a variety of clients, such as University of Kansas Health System, Princeton Health, and Osawatomie State Hospital. Within four years of joining the firm, she was promoted to associate vice president and is already considered a thought leader in her field. She’s contributed to research and white papers on behavioral health architecture, including one in progress on successful design strategies for children and adolescent behavioral health environments, and is a member of CannonDesign’s behavioral health subject matter expert group.

She’s currently participating in CannonDesign’s Healthcare Fellowship mentoring and development program and started the firm’s “My Why Campaign” this year to promote engagement and connectivity across the firm.

Healthcare Design: What attracted you to behavioral healthcare design?

Vito: I didn’t arrive at CannonDesign with the intention of focusing on behavioral healthcare. However, after being asked to work on a large replacement behavioral hospital, I quickly found the complexities and nuances required for this field to be both interesting and challenging. I thrive working on this complex and sensitive building typology because I find the potential for improvement in the approaches to and treatment of mental illness so rewarding. I’m passionate about creating state-of-the-art facilities to improve outcomes, reduce the stigma around mental health environments, and bring a sense of dignity to clinicians, staff, and patients.

Describe a recent project and a lesson you learned through your work.

The University of Kansas Health System (TUKHS), where I led the programming, planning, and spatial design for a new behavioral health hospital. Often, behavioral health hospitals are hidden from communities and located in remote locations, but TUKHS was determined to be in an area where it could best serve its clients, which meant renovating an existing building in downtown Kansas City, Kan. I learned the importance of staying flexible while working on this project, despite several major elements that changed, including the scope of the project and the site location. The ability to stay flexible, continue to seek appropriate solutions, and apply best practices despite project changes had a big impact on its success.

What do you think is the number one issue facing healthcare today?

Access to a full continuum of mental health care for people of all ages.

Share an idea you have for addressing that problem.

I have a vision for behavioral healthcare that operates more like a community wellness hub to treat health holistically—mentally, physically, and socially. I envision behavioral healthcare facilities as spaces with a full continuum of care for the whole self. People of all ages from the community are welcome and can receive all types and levels of care, from counseling to exercise, to promote human connections and socialization as part of treatment.

What’s your favorite design technology to use at work?

Adobe Illustrator. I love making diagrams to explain ideas visually to clients.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I honestly try not to make plans, as the best things along my career path have happened organically. I can say that I hope I’m still doing work that truly helps others and ultimately contributes to the greater good of society.