Young hospital patients with medically complex issues, such as traumatic brain injury or severe Down syndrome, often can’t be discharged until their homes and families are prepared to provide the ongoing care they’ll require. This generally results in patients waiting in an expensive pediatric or neonatal intensive care unit environment.

One alternative to that situation is Almost Home Kids (AHK), a decade-old program that partners with healthcare organizations to provide a homelike setting that supports transitional care for such children. AHK officials say their facilities are a cost-efficient alternative (roughly $1,000 a day, versus three times that for an ICU hospital bed) that offers patients and their families a comfortable place where they can be trained to use items like ventilators or feeding tubes once at home.

The first two AHK locations, both affiliated with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, opened in existing buildings—the first in a former residence in suburban Naperville, Ill., in June 1999 and the second in a Ronald McDonald House in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood in September 2012.

The latest AHK site is a freestanding facility in Peoria, Ill., that’s affiliated with OSF Healthcare Children’s Hospital of Illinois. This 22,000-square-foot building, which opened in November 2018, is the first purpose-built project for AHK and is designed to serve as a prototype for future iterations of the concept.

“Children with medical complexities have been referred to our Chicagoland sites from OSF Healthcare Children’s Hospital of Illinois for many years, but the distance families had to travel to take advantage of  our services, combined with an increasing population of children with complex medical needs, illustrated the need for us to bring an Almost Home Kids to Peoria,” says Deborah A. Grisko, president and executive director,  AHK.

Stantec (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) was brought in to design the $8.5 million project, which was funded solely by private donations. Because the firm was not involved in the first two sites, its project team used extensive feedback from families, caregivers, and staff, as well as visioning sessions, experience mapping, and full-size room mock-ups, to create design options and walk stakeholders through them, says Rebel Roberts, principal designer at Stantec.

This process resulted in several changes from the original AHK environments, such as improved wayfinding, with a visual hierarchy that clearly communicates the location of the main entrance and the overall layout of the interior. Another modification was the shift to private rooms from the two-patient layouts used in the first two models.

Key to the overall concept was creating a homelike feel  that would provide a calm, supportive environment for patients and their families to practice the care routines they would need to perform at home, Roberts says.

The U-shaped building features clusters of spaces surrounding a sunlit courtyard that continually connects patients, their families, and the staff to the outdoors. The interior is divided into a central intake area flanked by two wings: one with 12 single-bedroom units and the other housing a large dining area with an open kitchen, family room, and physical therapy facility.

AHK officials say they plan to roll out the prototype to other locations. Meanwhile, Stantec plans to do a one-year post-occupancy survey at the Peoria facility to further refine the prototype model.