Through a Mother’s Eyes: The Akron Children’s Hospital Renovation
(Akron, Ohio) – No parent wants their child to end up in the hospital, but there is peace in knowing that one local hospital has gone above and beyond to make the visit as comfortable and efficient as possible.
In Akron, the main campus of Akron Children’s Hospital looks a little different than in years past. From design elements that consider a child’s curiosity to seating locations and comfort to benefit families and even to unique opportunities that go the extra mile to give children a chance to shine, the recent renovation goes beyond to fulfill the needs of the whole person.
I recently had the opportunity to take an in-depth tour of the facility and from the moment I walked to the information desk and stumbled upon the giant wall of moving pieces and parts and balls (something that I know would entertain my 2-year-old), I was wowed.
The Design: Everyone Got a Say
Planning began in early 2016 with a goal to be “future forward.” Designers took into consideration the best flow options for patients as well as what works best for the staff.
How should the doors open? What about a nook here for monitors and other emergency equipment? What about easier check-in for patients that allowed for more flexibility and faster access to services like interpreters, financial counselors, wheelchairs, and wagons? Instead of trying to guess what the best options would be, designers went to those who know best, patients and staff.
Laurie Schueler and Holly Pupino, Senior Corporate Communication Specialists with Akron Children’s Hosptial, showed me around. They explained it was critical to the design team to go straight to the source when trying to determine the best layout. How else would the design and layout of the facility truly reflect what was needed and wanted by patients and staff?
While walking through the emergency room waiting room something caught my eye, charging stations. Sure enough, this idea came from patients who had been there and done it. They told the design team that you never expect to end up in the emergency waiting room and at times, you never know how long you’ll need to be there or how many phone calls you’ll need to make to worried family and friends. It seems like a small detail, but they didn’t leave any stone unturned.
Some families experience extended stays at Akron Children’s, where their lives are often full of worry, unknowing and stress. They asked for more privacy, bigger spaces, their own bathrooms, and they got it all. Each long-term patient room feels, essentially, like a little apartment. One room I was shown, the family had photos on the walls, décor on the shelves and even a corner dedicated to toys. If they can’t be at home, they can at least make it feel as close to home as possible. Not only does the Akron Children’s staff allow this, they encourage it.
Design leaders also went to the boots on the ground for input on how to lay out each floor. Akron Children’s staff members suggested things such as nooks down the hallway where they could store medical carts and monitors for ease of access without the clutter. They suggested doors that slide so they can easily carry in blankets, push carts, or bring other supplies to patients in need. Hospital leaders made it a point to hear the voices of those doing the work. Now, nurses and doctors can provide more efficient, timely and compassionate care to every patient that enters the hospital.
Making Things Less Scary
CAT scans, monitors, loud machines, while it’s all necessary to help determine and treat a child’s illness or injury, it doesn’t make it any less scary for a kid. The Akron Children’s design team considered this. Every floor of the renovated areas is a theme. A pond, a backyard, a jungle…artwork by children bring warmth and hope to the normally long, scary, empty halls. Murals distract you from large machines and intimidating equipment. The artwork helps to create a serene and even fun environment. Color and creative patterns fill each and every room. On multiple occasions, I caught my eyes wondering in my own sense curiosity as I scaled the room for hidden creatures jumping around on the side of medical carts and down the front of check-in counters.
It’s often serious illness or injury that causes a family to walk into the doors of the Akron campus. Play, entertainment, and other activities often become a second thought to recovery. But, in the new design, Akron Children’s Hospital staff members advocated for areas that allow children to remember the joys of life. Team members worked hard to create a space that offered art and music therapy, recording studios, and an environment that lets kids simply be kids.
What was once an outdoor playground on the roof, now is a wide, open, colorful rec area with a skylight. The best part, kids who, maybe can’t be there in person, can still see the action. Designers enclosed the area but kept the windows on surrounding buildings. Now, kids who might just be too sick to play today, can still look out their windows and see singers, artwork, and other motivating activities. Not to mention, patients at Akron Children’s also get regular visits from unique and exciting guests such as a variety of performers, superhero window washers, and even Clark, one of the hospital’s therapy dogs.
A Staff That Truly Cares
This is not a 9-5 job that simply pays the bills. This is a lifetime commitment to heal and impact the lives of children. Each staff member I encountered throughout my tour, radiated passion, dedication, and energy towards the patients and families they meet. From the doctors diagnosing illnesses, to the nurses answering the calls of patients, to emotional and mental health professionals spending hours just talking with them, to volunteers bringing support animals in to make the kids smile, to those flying the helicopters and driving the ambulances to get those in need there safely and as quickly as possible, to the communication staff working to share the strong message of the hospital, the commitment is unwavering.
It isn’t an easy job to work with sick kids. It isn’t easy having a sick kid. But, when an establishment recognizes, understands, and appreciates that memories and friends are made. Every story makes a difference.
Full Akron Children’s Hosptial Tour Photo Album