Shortly after development company Aquila Healthcare Development (Mount Dora, Fla.) and Stevens Construction (Fort Myers, Fla.) completed a skilled nursing unit together in Clermont, Fla., Aquila identified a shortage of skilled nursing beds farther south, in Lee County. So the developer reached out to Lee Health, a public healthcare system based in Fort Myers, about building and leasing a new three-story, 75-bed medical facility on its Gulf Coast Medical Center campus.

The proposal was  to provide post-acute services for patients needing short-term medical recovery and rehabilitation as part of Lee Health’s care continuum. “That’s where the biggest need was. There weren’t enough skilled nursing beds available, specifically around the Gulf Coast Hospital,” says Jodi Huntoon, marketing manager for Stevens Construction. “Patients were having to stay in the higher-cost hospital  setting because there were no other options available.”

Construction began in October 2017, and the Gulf Coast Medical Center Skilled Nursing Unit, designed by Studio+ (Fort Myers), opened in January. With patient stays averaging 18 to 24 days, the floor plan is designed to allow patients to feel at home with an open-concept living room, dining room, and kitchen in the center. Each unit’s 25 private patient rooms are arranged in a racetrack layout, creating a continuous corridor with benches to encourage movement and convenient access to occupational and physical therapy rooms.

One of the main design objectives was to provide flexibility, with patient rooms designed to accommodate rehabilitation, skilled nursing, and senior care patients now, as well as adapt to different types of rehab should the community’s needs change. Another bonus: Providing the additional space requirements for a rehab unit allowed for more space in each patient room as well as additional storage on each level, says Nathalie White, project manager and associate at Studio+ (Fort Myers). The facility’s 3,000-square-foot therapy gym incorporates the latest in technology and equipment that can eventually support outpatient care, too.

With its proximity to the medical center, the skilled nursing unit has emergency access to the hospital and shares resources with the facility to reduce the cost of care. For example, food is delivered from the hospital each day and prepared via the skilled nursing unit’s warming kitchen.

Inspired by the surrounding landscape including nearby driftwood sculptures, the interior finishes and furniture include washed woods to bring warmth and texture, blue and white colors that mimic the Gulf and ocean waters, and homelike furnishings that bring calmness into the space. Lots of natural light and views to the exterior are provided in the patient rooms and living areas, as well. “We wanted to bring the beach to the patients as they recover,” White says.