Steal this idea: How Lucile Packard Children's CEO Christopher Dawes optimized hospital design to reduce clinician stress

In 2008, Christopher Dawes, president and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, proposed a new vision for the hospital's future — costing upwards of $1.2 billion, a 520,000-square-foot medical facility that aims to be the most technologically-advanced hospital for children and expectant mothers. However, it was no typical capital hospital project. Not only did Lucile Packard Children's tap architects to design the new medical buildings, but it also had children, families, employees and medical staff weigh in to create an environment conducive to safe and effective care.

The new hospital, which has taken five years to complete, is scheduled to open in December 2017.

Here Mr. Dawes expands on how he was able to establish an environment in which staff is excited to work by including staff in the design process and using a warehouse to simulate medical rooms.

He invites you to steal his idea.

Note: The following responses were edited for length and clarity.

Question: What is one pioneering idea you’ve implemented at your hospital?

Christopher Dawes: One of the biggest contributions we've made to the community is the addition of our new hospital, which will open in December 2017. But something that sets us apart is how we involved our patients, families, staff and doctors in the design of the new hospital. With the help of the two architects we hired, Perkins + Will and HGA Architects and Engineers, we created mockups in a warehouse of what a critical care unit room,  nursing station, regular acute care patient room, operating room and imaging suite would look like under the proposed design. We had over 500 staff members, ranging from nurses to physicians to housekeeping, visit that warehouse. Staff had the opportunity to decide what would go in the rooms and where things would go. Through this effort there were a lot of changes made to the design to meet the needs of our staff members.

Q: Can you provide an example of a design change that arose through the warehouse mockups?

CD: The new facility will include medication alcoves in the patient care units to prevent interruption and distraction while pulling medications from the automated dispensaries. When a nurse is getting medication, a red light will go on above the alcove, which signals to everyone else not to interrupt them at that moment. It will allow nurses to operate more safely.

Q: What inspired the idea to involve the staff?

CD: Any hospital, in particular a children’s hospital, is very labor intensive. When you mainly serve acutely ill patients, it puts a lot of pressure on the medical staff. It causes stress. We wanted to produce a hospital that will function in a way to relieve some of those pressures in order to meet our patients' needs as well as our medical staff and employee's needs.

Q: How has this changed your organization?

CD: Right now we are in the process of recruiting nearly 400 new staff members. Due to [our staff's] input, it is easier for us to recruit and retain people. Communicating to these potential hires how the new facility was designed and tested by staff is a selling point. The facility was designed to be very effective for medical staff to do their jobs. It is a place that, by design, is a supportive environment.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges?

CD: One of the biggest challenges is about two-thirds of staff will be moving to the new building and a third will remain in the current building.  While there are upgrades planned in the existing facility, which will eventually become our mother-baby center, it is a challenge to have some staff move while others stay. Those that are staying in the current building are anxiously awaiting the renovations.

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