Health Tech

March 1, 2008

Care center packs technology into a comforting, healing environment


Like most new healthcare facilities, St. Joseph Hospital's Patient Care Center (PCC) in Orange, CA, boasts a wealth of sophisticated equipment, comforting user amenities, and energy-efficient technologies. But balancing a healing environment with mounds of technology that can never fail is no easy task. "It seems like we are building the space shuttle each time we do this," says Grant Gustafson, architect for the St. Joseph Hospital project and lead technical designer at NBBJ, Seattle.

Patient rooms emphasize a home-like atmosphere with such amenities as built-in desks and sleeping areas for visitors. Wireless technology throughout the building accommodates everything from visitor laptops and Blackberries to wireless diagnostic imaging machines. Operating room technology is packed into the walls and ceilings for easy, immediate access, with modular designs and booms that put equipment within reach and carry vital items such as gasses and surgical tools.

The PCC provides 150 inpatient beds - including an Intensive Care Unit and an Acute Patient Care Unit - and 14 operating rooms (ORs). The $130 million facility also houses separate surgical preparation and recovery areas for adults and children, an acute care nursing unit, an intensive care nursing unit, and a Central Surgical Sterilization and Supply Suite.

Late in 2007, the new 248,000-square-foot, four-level Patient Care Center (PCC) opened its doors, making St. Joseph Hospital the largest in Orange County.

Curtain Wall Calls
The PCC's most unusual - and striking - feature is its façade. An aluminum, plaster, and sweeping, etched-glass curtain wall features handwritten inscriptions from one of the hospital's founders as well as an image of the original hospital erected in the 1920s. The ornate cladding contains nearly 250 sheets of glass that vary in size from 2x5 to 9x5 feet.

"We were able to soften the building's exterior with the fritting on the glazing, which tells a story as it wraps around the structure," says Chuck Coryell, director of design and construction for St. Joseph Hospital. "The fritted message has been very well received. Otherwise it would be a very commercial or common-looking building."

The landmark glass façade features the 5-foot flowing, cursive handwriting of Mother Bernard Gosselin, a leader with the Sisters of St. Joseph, who expanded their ministry into Southern California in the 1920s to provide healthcare service with an emphasis on personal, social, and spiritual needs. The ministry founded St. Joseph Hospital more than 75 years ago, and the sisters' advocacy lives on as the healthcare campus is updated and expanded.

The script wraps around the building and contains such messages from Gosselin as "A compassionate presence" and "To assist and serve." An image of the original 1929 mission-style hospital and the St. Joseph Hospital logo are also etched onto the glass. "Mother Bernard Gosselin was the inspiration for the hospital. We tried to bring that forth in the new building," says Gustafson.

The etching was achieved using a special process similar to silk screening in which ceramic frit is applied to the glass to create lettering, images, and patterns. Frit, a granulated material used as the foundation for enamel or glaze, is pressed against glass and heat-treated so the frit forms a permanent bond to the glass. The process can produce high-resolution images and fine details. This type of glazing treatment also helps diffuse light and reduce solar heat gain by providing shade from the direct sun while also offering visual privacy for patient rooms.

The glass was fabricated in Seattle by Northwestern Industries and Laurel Graphics & Fabrication Co., also in Seattle. The etched glass was then placed within an inner layer of insulated glass. The materials were shipped to a curtain wall manufacturer, Sierra Aluminum, Riverside, CA, where the glass was encased in aluminum frames and shipped to Orange. The panels were installed adjacently by crane from the ground or by special equipment that was mounted on the rooftop.

Extensive coordination was required to align the glass so the design matched perfectly, says Todd Foos, assistant project manager for general contractor McCarthy Building Companies Inc., Newport Beach. "To the best of our knowledge, this is the only facility with a three-story silk screen exterior-glazed element that contains artwork to this extent," says Foos, whose favorite aspect of the project was the building's skin.

Structural silicone sealant and redundant clips retain the glass in the frame. Finding the best solution for stability was crucial, as construction of the PCC was part of a larger plan to update all patient facilities to comply with tougher earthquake preparedness legislation.

Step Inside
As impressive as the PCC's exterior is the networked technology within its walls. "There is so much packed into the walls and ceilings. Gas, power supplies, fresh air supplies, backup systems, communications. There are many needs to support the procedure areas," says Gustafson.

Of the 14 new ORs at St. Joseph Hospital, 12 are universal 600-square-foot rooms and two are 700-square-foot specialty ORs. Like the 12 smaller ORs, the specialty ORs accommodate virtually any procedure but are also equipped for specialty cardiovascular or neurovascular procedures. All ORs include 42-inch NEC LCD flat panel display monitors for surgeons' use during imaging, endoscopic, and laparoscopic procedures. Surgeries can also be broadcast virtually anywhere in real time, allowing specialized surgeons to assist and observe procedures. Each OR also has a Stryker digital file management system workstation for immediate access to patient information, says Coryell.

In the recovery areas, the hospital's design team placed great emphasis on making the patient experience as comfortable as possible. Interior elements include extensive use of daylight, use of soft paint and fabric, light panels above patient beds featuring nature scenes, and a multistory healing garden courtyard on the second floor that offers a spot for meditation. This interior light well is visible from some patient rooms and provides a relaxing landscape that includes trees, water, and pole-mounted architectural lights.

Lighting softens the interior atmosphere, reduces the "institutional" feel, and showcases architectural features and the richness of materials, says Melanie Taylor, lighting designer for the project and senior associate at NBBJ. The lobby - which serves as the "front door" for the entire St. Joseph campus - uses extensive daylighting with downlights to provide illumination. Within the rooms, patients control lighting levels for maximum comfort and energy savings. Fluorescent lights are used in most areas.

Healthy Inside and Out
It can be notoriously difficult for 24/7 operations such as hospitals to be sustainable, but the St. Joseph project team made every effort by selecting long-lasting, energy-efficient, natural materials. The lobby area features Jura stone tiles, a natural product. Forbo Marmoleum is used in patient rooms. Anti-static flooring materials contain recycled materials. DuPont Corion is used in settings requiring rugged, seamless areas such as counter tops, bathrooms, and other hard-surface areas. "We were interested in 50-year finishes that won't wear through. Hospitals take a lot of wear and tear," notes Coryell.

PPG Solarban Low-E glass helps block direct solar heat and reduce air-conditioning needs, and a Sarnafil thermoplastic roof membrane with reflective properties tops the building.

A building automation system by Siemens Building Systems keeps a close eye on energy use. "Everything is well connected - pumps, drives, motors, boilers, chillers," says Coryell. A 13,000-square-foot Facilities Services Building was constructed on the campus to serve the new PCC. The central plant is equipped with "intelligent" Carrier chillers and Cleaver Brooks steam boilers that can be monitored from anywhere on campus.

Inside and out, project leaders at St. Joseph made choices designed to have minimal environmental impact and maximum effect on the health and comfort of users. And so it seems fitting that Gosselin's exterior scripting calls out, "Dear neighbor, I pray that you may find light, joy, and consolation."

Julie Eisele ([email protected]) is a freelance writer based in Iowa City, IA.


The new facility's lobby serves as the main entryway for the St. Joseph campus. Soft interior furnishings and natural lighting provide a welcoming, non-institutional atmosphere.
Amenities in patient rooms include desks, day beds for family members, and Wi-Fi connections for patient and visitor use.
Public spaces at St. Joseph promote a warm and relaxing environment.
Nursing stations make heavy use of task lights, while lighting in public areas is controlled automatically to save energy when not in use. Natural and sustainable flooring products are featured in the hospital.
The new Patient Care Center at St. Joseph Hospital stands as a model for future projects to be built on the 75-year-old campus.

Above: Natural interior products and furnishings create a comforting climate for patients. Electronic record keeping allows doctors and nurses to minimize paperwork.

Left: The word "Excellence" appears on the exterior of the Patient Care Center in letters that are about 5 feet in height. The etched glass façade was created using a process in which ceramic frit is applied to glass to create images and lettering.

Heavy use of glass in key areas provides comforting natural daylight within the Patient Care Center. Low-emissivity glass helps reduce energy consumption. RMA ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHERS

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of I+S Design, create an account today!