PAH leads way with elder-friendly design

 Clinical co-ordinator Shannon deBruyckere (far left) tours top floors of hospital with Kathleen Friesen (above) and Jackie Smith (left). -  Chung Chow photos
Clinical co-ordinator Shannon deBruyckere (far left) tours top floors of hospital with Kathleen Friesen (above) and Jackie Smith (left).
— image credit: Chung Chow photos

Hospital foundation raises $10.6 million to complete fifth and sixth floor

Where exposed pipes run overhead and insulation sticks out of incomplete wall frames, a 30-bed medical/surgical rehab unit will soon be up and running at the Peace Arch Hospital.

The floor above it, in the same mid-construction status, will be a 26-bed acute medical unit.

Not only will the new wings on the fifth and sixth floors make room for more patients, but their design will be elder-friendly.

From the lighting and colour, to the flooring and layout, the wings will accommodate seniors, making their stay in the hospital easier and more enjoyable, and ultimately speeding up recovery time.

Kathleen Friesen, director for geriatric projects and services with Fraser Health, said the elder-friendly concept has been adopted by various hospitals under construction around the Lower Mainland, but Peace Arch Hospital will be the first to implement it, when construction is completed next February.

“Although it’s a new concept, we really believe it’s reflective of how all hospitals should be designed,” she said.

Friesen added that unless the changes were pointed out, most people wouldn’t notice them.

To address seniors’ increased sensitivity to light and decreased vision in low light, the floors will have natural lighting through accessible windows, light bulbs that minimize glare, easy-to-reach light switches and night lights in rooms.

Due to a yellowing of the lens of the eye, seniors also have difficulty distinguishing blue-green colours. The new floors will be painted warm colours, such as orange, red and gold, and contrasting colours will be used to highlight doors and differentiate between walls and floors.

Hard-surface, non-slip flooring will also be installed, making it easier for patients with wheelchairs or walkers.

“We want to maintain people’s ability to maintain independence,” Friesen said, adding the new design will encourage seniors to be mobile.

The floor’s halls are being designed with alcoves, to provide a resting area for patients. Alcoves are also being constructed for equipment, to free the hallways of clutter and make them easier to walk through.

The fifth floor, with 30 patients’ beds, has 18 rooms. The large, low windows have views of treetops, greenery, and, on a clear day, Mount Baker. The washrooms are large enough for wheelchairs, and a rehabilitation area is in the centre of the floor.

The physiotherapy department is currently on the second floor, and with a closer centre, seniors won’t have to travel as far in the hospital for their treatment.

“The rehabilitation area is really important to seniors,” said Shannon deBruyckere, clinical co-ordinator for Fraser Health.

She said the open room is visible to other patients, who may become more motivated to exercise when they see others using it.

The sixth floor has long, continuous windows and its 26 acute care beds are in mostly private rooms.

The $10.6 million project is being paid for by the Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation.

Friesen said the elder-friendly design is not creating additional expenses.

If patients’ experience at the hospital is positive and comfortable, she said their stress levels won’t be as high, and it’s likely they’ll recover faster.

“By improving health in the community, and decreasing length of stay, it saves the community costs.”

The 12,000 sq. ft. floors were shelled in the north tower for future expansion when it was built in 1993.

The space is now being finished to prepare for future capacity needs.

Jackie Smith, executive director of the Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation, said the space will help the current shortage in beds, and relieve other busy departments in the hospital.

“We would expect that it would provide some relief in emergency,” she said. “Elder friendly is really the bonus (and) what makes it more exciting for us.”

Excluding newborns, about 40 per cent of patients admitted to Peace Arch Hospital are over 75 years old. Of those, the average age is 84.

“We really care about the people here,” Friesen said. “Whatever we do for seniors is good for everyone. It’s universal.”

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