In this series, Healthcare Design asks leading healthcare design professionals, firms, and owners to tell us what’s got their attention and share some ideas on the subject.

Brenda Smith is a former nurse and health practice leader for Perkins and Will’s New York studio. Here, she shares her thoughts on improving access to care, repurposing vacant storefronts into clinical space, and the importance of supporting staff well-being through dedicated respite spaces.

  1. Adaptable planning for a range of scenarios

Our current health crisis has created tremendous financial stress for major healthcare systems, intensifying the considerations for capital investment decisions. Increasingly, healthcare providers are seeking programming and planning solutions coupled with metrics on everything from costs to required equipment to staff needs for a variety of care models. Our role is evolving to include planning for multiple futures and providing data for the operational impacts and costs to assist the decision-making process. Providing planning scenarios for a range of revenue models can offer opportunities to save on square footage and up-front costs while increasing revenue potential. For instance, evaluating a future with various ratios of telemedicine patient visits and in-person visits can provide information about patient throughput and reduce the number of exam room spaces required for ambulatory care.

  1. Proximity and access in support of equity

The last six months have shown us that health is a great equalizer and that the health of our communities impacts our entire social fabric. Vulnerable populations have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19—often affected first and most acutely with limited access to care.  Healthcare designers can be a part of the solution supporting our client’s mission to provide care with neighborhood proximity and accessibility for underserved populations. Recent concepts have included micro-clinics in low-income neighborhoods, which involved the adaptive reuse of commercial space at street level and pop-up booths for mental health services in outdoor community spaces. It’s time to shed the default of “the more square footage and funds the better” and instead re-examine the networks we are creating.

  1. Repurposing retail space

In urban centers across the country, retail storefronts are shuttering their doors, particularly with the exponential growth of e-commerce and changing consumer behaviors. This could provide an opportunity to repurpose dead retail into clinical space, particularly in neighborhoods that lack adequate health infrastructure. Similarly, in more suburban areas, the demise of the traditional shopping mall offers opportunities for adaptive reuse. Shuttered anchor-store spaces provide generous structural bays and floor-to-ceiling heights for a variety of ambulatory programs. Creating a destination for care by converting these facilities into a health campus with clinics, specialty care, and supporting community amenities can breathe new life into tired suburban dinosaurs.

  1. Supporting hospital staff offstage

Mitigating staff burnout and retaining employees has never been more important for healthcare providers. As a baseline, facilities should be built with amenities that provide staff with places to exhale offstage of the care unit. Spaces that support moments of respite with connections to daylight and nature are proven to reduce stress and burn out. These areas don’t need to occupy a lot of square footage, but they must be thoughtfully designed to be impactful. Research has shown a compelling correlation between staff burnout and patient errors, meaning that if we design dedicated spaces to support staff well-being, we’re also creating safer environments for patients.

  1. Bringing healthcare into the home

Accelerated and widespread adoption of telehealth technologies means patients have ease and convenience to connect to care from their home. The ability to access a doctor through a device will not replace acute care but it will play a critical role in preventative healthcare and monitoring some chronic conditions. While many patients are slowly transitioning back to face-to-face treatment, there’s no going back and healthcare providers and designers will need to provide flexible, adaptable spaces to adjust to this new hybrid model.


Want to share your Top 5? Contact Managing Editor Tracey Walker at for submission instructions.