Center For Children’s Integrated Services Brings Together Autism, Mental Health Services In Flint, Mich.
GHS Center for Children’s Integrated Services: Curved walls allow patients and visitors to avoid surprise encounters, which is an important consideration when treating patients on the autism spectrum. The cladding on the pods is made of a mixture of recycled rubber and cork that feels soft to touch but can be easily sanitized.
GHS Center for Children’s Integrated Services: Pods carved out of the walls in the autism center allow patients to feel safe and aware of their surroundings. Bright colors distinguish different areas within the clinic including the observation and waiting areas and treatment rooms.
GHS Center for Children’s Integrated Services: Large exterior windows maximize natural light and allow it to filter into waiting rooms for families awaiting assessments in the Neurological Center for Excellence.
GHS Center for Children’s Integrated Services: Clean, neutral color tones create an inviting atmosphere for patients and families as they await appointments for Child and Family Services and Community Outreach.
GHS Center for Children’s Integrated Services: The second-floor waiting area and lounge utilizes greenery and large exterior windows to create a calm, comfortable setting.
GHS Center for Children’s Integrated Services: The center’s open lobby and atrium space features a neutral materials palette with pops of color in strategic locations, such as upholstery, seating, and wall graphics, to not overstimulate children receiving care. Soft, child-friendly seating resembles puzzle pieces that children can play with.
GHS Center for Children’s Integrated Services: Autism therapy spaces were designed with natural wood tones and warm lighting to create a calm setting that’s free of sensory distractions. Acoustic features including curved ceiling beams are designed to limit noise transmission and echoes.
GHS Center for Children’s Integrated Services: A secure outdoor playground is located on the southwest corner next to the autism center. Designed as a therapeutic tool, the playground features brightly colored rubberized surfaces to prevent falls and facilitate all-weather use.
GHS Center for Children’s Integrated Services: Prominent signage enhances Genesee Health System’s visibility while large glass windows enable the community to view inside. The south-facing exterior is designed with a secure drop-off area for patients and families .
Genesee Health System, Center for Children’s Integrated Health, Flint, Mich.
Public mental health provider Genesee Health System (GHS; Flint, Mich.) was operating its children’s mental health services from three separate buildings at different locations in Flint due to growth and expansion of services.
This set-up created barriers for families who had to navigate different services and programs. “Although not every child had to go to all three places, we looked at it as disrespectful to individuals who might have had transportation challenges,” says Danis (Dan) Russell, chief executive officer at GHS.
Pediatric mental health services on the rise
Demand for children’s mental health services had also increased in the community over the years, exacerbated even more with the pandemic and the 2014 Flint water crisis that caused harmful effects of lead exposure, particularly in children, with autism being one of the leading outcomes.
A desire to serve as a one-stop shop for Genesee County families and mental health services, as well as anticipation for growing demand for children’s services, led GHS to think about a new location.
GHS’s initial plan was to rent a larger, existing building to colocate services as well as have room to expand its offerings, including adding a federally qualified health center (FQHC) for primary care services.
However, in August 2020, GHS received private and public funding to support building a facility designed for its specific needs. Soon after, the organization engaged HED, a Detroit-based integrated architecture, engineering, and planning firm, to begin planning and design on a new facility in Flint.
Unifying children’s behavioral health services
Opened in September 2022, the new $23 million Center for Children’s Integrated Services brings together all of GHS’s core behavioral health programs, including the Neurological Center for Excellence, Child and Family Services, and the Children’s Autism Center.
The facility also houses the new FQHC and Community Outreach, which includes child case management services and a mental health mobile clinic.
“The driving objective was to create a building that’s designed for kids and where everyone—kids, family, and staff—feel that they are worth the effort, are important, and matter,” Russell says.
To ease navigation within the 60,000-square-foot, two-level facility, designers utilized an L-shape layout. “Patients and visitors don’t need to navigate through a maze of hallways to find the correct treatment space,” says Jessi Mesalic, associate and senior designer at HED.
On the first floor, the main lobby includes an open stairway, public café, and shared spaces that encourage socialization and connection for patients and families.
Each service line has its own dedicated area/wing within the building that includes waiting areas. For example, the Children’s Autism Center is on the first floor and features four treatment pods with different therapy areas as well as seven treatment observation areas with two-way observation windows and separate entrances for caregivers. “It was important that children didn’t feel like they were on display,” Mesalic says.
On the second floor, the Neurological Center for Excellence incorporates natural wood tones with pops of color in the waiting area to create an inviting atmosphere for children and their families.
Caregiver input informs design
The design team gathered input from caregivers to inform the center’s overall design, including eliminating sharp angles in favor of rounded edges on treatment pods and spaces to help young patient see what’s coming next—an important consideration for children with autism who can become apprehensive when they don’t know next steps.
The project also offered an opportunity to address staff needs. “Not having a single facility fueled a lack of synergy and important cultural structure for caregivers,” David Jaeger, principal and healthcare sector leader says.
To better foster a strong workplace culture at the new facility, designers added four dedicated staff respite spaces adjacent to flexible conference spaces and meeting rooms on the second floor to further support staff needs.
Overall, Russell says the new facility offers a welcoming center for patients, families, and staff. “I hope they feel that when they walk into the Center for Children’s Integrated Services,” he says.
For more on mental health care in pediatric facilities, read this Healthcare Design article here.
Tracey Walker is managing editor of Healthcare Design. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Project details for Genesee Health System, Center for Children’s Integrated Health
Project location: Flint, Mich.
Project completion date: July 2022
Owner: Genesee Health System
Total building area: 57,000 sq. ft.
Total construction cost: $23 million
Cost/sq. ft.: Approximately $224
Interior design: HED
General contractor: D W Lurvey Construction
Builder: D W Lurvey Construction
Art consultant: N/A
Art/pictures: By owner
AV equipment/electronics/software: By owner
Carpet/flooring: Milliken, Upofloor, Olympia Tile, Stone Peak Tile, Florida Tile
Ceiling/wall systems: Certainteed, Rulon International, MBI Acoustic Products
Doors/locks/hardware: VT Industries, Schlage
Fabric/textiles: DesignTex, Maharam
Furniture—seating/casegoods: Kentwood Furniture
Project details are provided by the design team and are not vetted by Healthcare Design.