There's nothing shiny or high-tech about plywood cabinets that have “drawers” drawn on with black markers. Or walls adorned with yellow sticky notes that read “mirror” or “hook,” or that have electrical outlets depicted on them.
But these mock-ups are helping designers of the Buffett Cancer Center to figure out how best to configure the building's rooms.
The mock-ups, set up in a garage down the hill from the cancer center construction site, have been visited by about 200 people over the past few months.
The reviews by patients, family members, hospital staff and physicians already have led to design changes for rooms throughout the cancer center.
Designers have rearranged inpatient bathrooms three or four times based on people's input, said Ann Yager, director of the Village Pointe Cancer Center. Yager oversees the Patient Family Advisory Council that's helping with the planning of the Buffett Cancer Center.
Some people, she said, would say, “The sink is too close. If I fell, I would hit my head” or “This door opens up and there's not enough room for me.”
A design for a reception desk and waiting room also was changed after advisory council members noted that not all of the waiting room was visible from the desk. “They strongly felt that people sitting at the desk needed to keep an eye on the people out in the waiting room … making sure that the patients were moving through; also, if there was a patient who started not feeling well,” said Jenny Bartholomew, the Nebraska Medical Center's facilities planning manager.
“We really had to redo quite a few things to make that happen,” she said. “But I agree with them.”
Designers came to the council with an idea they had seen on visits to other cancer centers: a sliding door that would allow patients in adjoining chemotherapy infusion rooms to chat during their treatments. “They were all, like, 'Yeah, that sounds like a great idea.' And then, when we got in the space, people said, 'You know what, the functionality of the space is way more important than the conversation.'†”
Advisory council members, Bartholomew said, were concerned that the sliding door wouldn't afford patients the privacy they need. Even though the door could be closed, it wouldn't be as soundproof as a wall would be, making private conversations with physicians easier to overhear. “Now,” she said, “we have gone back to a solid wall.”
Mock-ups often are used when designing health care-related projects, said Bruce Carpenter, vice president of Omaha-based HDR Architecture, which is designing the cancer center. For staff, it's informative for creating effective work spaces, he said.
But it's also important to give patients and families a chance to weigh in, Carpenter said. “These are repetitive elements — in this case, 108 patient rooms — so the benefit to improve the design is considerable.”
Patricia Gottschalk walked through the plywood rooms on a recent afternoon with her daughter, Shayla. Gottschalk's son, Shane, was treated for a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at the med center from October 2011 until July 2012. He died in November at age 21.
The family made many five-hour trips to Omaha from their home in Hays, Kan., over the course of Shane's treatment. Gottschalk said she continues to serve on the advisory council because the family made good friends here and she wants to help with the cancer center design.
Bartholomew showed the Gottschalks an examination room where council members' recommendations had added a curtain that could give patients some privacy during an exam or while dressing afterward. “There were times when we stepped out of the room and stood just outside the door,” said Gottschalk, recalling her son's visits, “and then after they were done, we stepped back in. But yeah, that would be nice.”
Gottschalk said she hoped the hospital buys more comfortable sleeper sofas than the ones the family used. The pull-out bed was comfortable, she said, but the sofa itself wasn't “comfy to sit on when it's up in a couch position, because it sets too straight.”
Bartholomew said the advisory council would be invited to a “furniture fair” where members could try out and rate options.