Healthcare Planners Take Design to the Next Level

When you think about healthcare, you might think about doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who work tirelessly to save and improve lives. You also might think about all the equipment involved — MRI and X-ray machines, CAT scanners, high-tech hospital beds, heart monitors, etc.

But what about how it all fits together and flows in space? What about how things look and feel when you’re a patient — the colors, the light, the textures, the amount of open space, the sense of safety and comfort, the way the air circulates to keep pathogens to a minimum, how far the nurses must walk in order to get to you, how far your family has to walk to visit you, the acoustics, the elements of privacy…and that’s just a partial list. That’s what healthcare planners think about every day.

For this episode of Side of Design, host Jarett Anderson spoke with some of BWBR’s talented healthcare planners to learn about this incredibly important role.

The team:

What Exactly is a Healthcare Planner?

Sophia explains that a healthcare planner is an architect and/or designer who’s knowledgeable of the processes, operations, and all the nuances of a healthcare environment. Why? Because healthcare environments are so complex, and whenever there’s complexity, there’s a need for specialization.

Brian adds that, at its core, healthcare planning is about problem solving. Planners listen to the specific challenges of clients and think about a future state that can help these clients be more efficient.

Ultimately, it’s about optimizing spaces to provide the best care possible. Or, in Scott’s words, “I think healthcare planners are Jedi knights.” By that, he means you need to build consensus, listen, be interpreters, and be fortune tellers who design for tomorrow, not just for today. “We get to be an agent of change.”

Often, there’s a gap between the language and perspective used by medical experts, and the language and perspective used by architects — healthcare planners can bridge that gap.

What Do Healthcare Planners Do?

As Brian explains, there’s the qualitative side of healthcare planning, which involves providing healing spaces, and spaces that inspire patients and families and providers. There’s also a quantitative side, where healthcare planners seek to make spaces more efficient. That’s particularly important as healthcare organizations across the country continue to face major staffing crises across.

Healthcare planners take part in utilization studies and gather data to understand how the whole operation needs to work, so they can make informed recommendations. They also have a deep understanding of the impact that an environment can have on a person, including the many sensory factors that come into play. Now imagine adding in the complexities and stakes of healthcare, along with the logistics of actually providing and receiving that care! As Sophia explains, “Zooming in and zooming out is the best way I can describe it — knowing how things need to work operationally, but then also being able to zoom in on room details as well in the service of bettering the patient experience and making sure they can navigate the facility as a whole.”

The Power of Healthcare Planning First-hand

Scott gives a poignant example of the power of healthcare planning with a story about his father-in-law, who had bypass surgery. As a visitor, Scott was instructed to find his way to the recovery room via colored tape on the floor. When he got to the room, his father-in-law was in respiratory arrest and the room was crammed with care teams. During the subsequent weeks of his father-in-law’s time in the hospital, Scott had a lot of time think about the spaces he was in. A hospital room might seem like it has ample space when it’s just a bed in the room, but when it’s full of necessary equipment and emergency staff, do you still have space to provide necessary care?

He also noticed things like the fact that the furniture in the waiting room (where people often slept overnight) was uncomfortable, and the same door that visitors entered and exited for was also used for laundry and trash, and the cafeteria was hard to find. The hospital was doing its best, but was limited by the design of their space. Empathizing with the patient and family experience is a huge driver, and it’s this ability to make a real impact on peoples’ lives that keeps BWBR healthcare planners so engaged in their work.

The conversation covered so much more ground, including advice for up-and coming healthcare planners and what’s next for medical planning as a specialty. Make sure to the listen to the whole episode at the link above!

Big Moves: A New Space for BWBR Omaha

This year (2023) marks the 5-year anniversary of BWBR’s Omaha office, so it’s only appropriate that we celebrate the milestone in style with an amazing, custom new space. These past five years, we’ve seen our team, client list, and connection to the community grow beyond expectations, and we’re so excited for this next step in our journey.

“This move allows us to remain grounded in the fabric of the community while increasing our capacity for collaboration. I look forward to the opportunity to gather together physically, exchange ideas, and spur our creativity in service of our clients — there’s nothing better than being with these talented folks,” says Scott Kirchner, BWBR Principal and Omaha Office Leader.

As of February 15th, BWBR has officially transitioned to our new location in the Blackstone Plaza building in the Blackstone District following a build-out focused on creating a collaborative space to support our staff, our project work, and our ongoing commitment to flexible work environments. The new setup includes 18 workstations, a large meeting room and huddle rooms with hybrid-supportive AV technology, focus rooms, a work café, an ideation lounge, and more.

“We are excited to have a new space to inspire our work, gather together to share ideas and knowledge, and support our flexible work culture. Blackstone Plaza is a fantastic building with many amenities for our Omaha team members. We look forward to thriving together as a team and enhancing the work we do for our amazing clients,” says Stefnee Trzpuc, BWBR Principal and Operations Leader.

Since expanding to Omaha, BWBR has designed healthcare and higher education projects for a variety of local institutions including University of Nebraska at Kearney, Providence Medical Center, Southeast Community College, CHI Health St. Elizabeth, as well as clients in the broader region such as Clarke County and Mahaska Health.

Stephanie McDaniel, BWBR President and CEO, says, “Our Nebraska clients are doing amazing things in our core markets of healthcare, higher education, science + tech, workplace, and justice, and we’re so thrilled to support them in that work. We’re also excited about the great talent in the Omaha area, and the ways our fantastic Omaha team continues to support the strategic growth of our firm.”

Thanks to everyone whose hard work made this move possible, and cheers to a beautiful new space!