By Erika Hill, Interior Designer

Any mother who has taken her family for a vacation in a condo at the beach or a cabin in the woods knows that she is not on vacation. She has merely changed her view for a few days of her typical family responsibilities. Everyone will still need to be fed regularly and with some semblance of nutrition. Sand or leaves will need to be rinsed off people, pets, and things. Children will still need reminding that the ocean/lake/pool is NOT a proper bath. She will still insist that sunblock or insect repellent is a MUST, and at some point, she will try to do what everyone else is doing, relax. Mom’s caregiving role is 24/7.

So, what happens when Mom has a hospital stay? Planned or unplanned, the ancillary responsibilities remain. Friends, neighbors, relatives, and churches step in with meals or rides, but what can we be doing as designers and implementers of best practices for women’s healthcare? A woman’s family responsibilities continue to exist in the healthcare realm. Appointments need rescheduling: Beep. Prescriptions need refilling: Beep. Tomorrow is a birthday: BEEEEEEEP! The stress of everyday life is still all around her. Focusing on her own care and recovery under these conditions is a challenge. Repeatedly the message that our researchers hear from women is, “You take care of me when you take care of my loved ones.”

What can we do? How do we start looking at caring for the needs of a family when the main care provider is unavailable? How do we offer these amenities without adding square footage to already tightly planned women’s units? 

As planners and designers when we ask ourselves those questions the first solutions that come to mind are those we see quite often: incorporating sleeping accommodations to the patient room; adding an area for work for a significant other; creating a family room for TV watching to give mom quiet time. All these are good ideas but still are not meeting our patients’ experience expectations while eating up valuable square footage. Patients are constantly asking for more family amenities, and providers constantly debate the addition of an unused room that they need for care provisions.

One school of thought in finding solutions comes from creating dual-functioning spaces. Could we widen a nourishment room ever so slightly to accommodate the service of a light meal or snack for families so that leaving the patient floor is not required for every meal? Perhaps a staff teaming room, with creative use of furniture and storage, could double as a sibling play or technology/work area. Would it be completely unheard of to create waiting spaces that could easily be divided and used as private family gathering rooms for larger families to visit with a mom and new baby? 

Another school of thought is to utilize significant others or family members to be an additional set of hands to help provide simple patient care. How might this be accommodated within safe and legal bounds? Could this be as simple as accessible nourishment areas where a family member could grab a cup of ice for a laboring mom or a snack for a hungry, whining sibling? What if blanket warmers were built into an area where that same family member could get them for a patient instead of ringing for a nurse? Out of the box, thinking on even the smallest items could have a large impact.

Traditional planning provides for the needs of the patient but has left these “holes” in the patient/family experience. As thought leaders, we should guide our clients and end-users through this type of thinking, helping spark their ideas not only in designing a space but in creative adjustments to their operations and ultimately how their patients experience the design. Planning and designing more than the required and expected can change efficiency and effectiveness and ultimately create a lasting impression.