Facilities are valuable tools that aid in recruiting and retaining talent. Employers are increasingly recognizing that workplace settings make an impact on health, morale, productivity and effectiveness. For healthcare organizations, the workplace setting is taking a greater priority. Healthcare workers have very demanding jobs that often put them in harm’s way. When looking for ways to create a better workspace and in turn improve their patient experience, our client SSM Health engaged us to deliver their WELL vision to the built environment. Utilizing the WELL building standard was a key component to inform design decisions for making a better workplace.
SSM Health wanted to know, “What can we do to create a better and healthier facility?” WELL Building Standard or WELL is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. There are varying certification levels as well as benefits. WELL certified projects create better workspaces with an emphasis on the well-being of the facility occupants. Medical professionals hold an important role in our communities and WELL is optimized to advance their health and well-being through the built environment. As a place of healing, healthcare environments are appropriately modeled to promote healthy lifestyles and employee well-being.
Introducing WELL to our project involved a short series of meetings to identify possible credits and quantify costs. We provided opportunities to integrate WELL features in the design and monitor certification. Several credits require commissioning and post occupancy testing of the building to achieve certification. With features impacting mental health support, nutrition and even corporate policies, WELL integration may require significant modifications depending on the client, but the positive outcomes on building users often offset challenges.
There are 10 concepts in WELL v2 certification – Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community – that are comprised of design features with distinct health intents. These features are either preconditions or optimizations and are unique to each project. Creating a healthy environment for SSM Health based on WELL included:
- Air – air monitoring and post construction testing to ensure sufficient air quality.
- Water – providing drinking water filling stations throughout the building for easy access to water for hydration as well as handwashing stations for hygiene.
- Nourishment – ensuring healthy snack options with nutritional transparency as well as adequate break areas.
- A staff lounge with exterior windows and outdoor patio is provided for staff to take daily breaks in a designated eating space and a place to prepare meals. Since medical staff are very busy during their workday, smaller breakout areas were also included close to staff work areas, so they have a convenient place to take a quick lunch when needed.
- Light – infusing access to daylight in public and clinical areas, supplemental task lighting for all work areas, motorized exterior blinds to control glare in public spaces and care teamwork areas, as well as occupant lighting control.
- Movement – focusing on ergonomics and seating flexibility with adjustable sit-stand desks and movable modular furniture as well as visible stairs to promote activity. The inclusion of lockers and changing rooms with showers promote commuting to work.
- Thermal Comfort – radiant heating at exterior rooms prevent cold drafts from windows and exterior walls.
- Sound – several strategies were taken to protect patient privacy through acoustic control:
- walls between exam rooms have an enhanced sound transmission coefficient, white noise generation for sound masking and ducted return to eliminate sound leaks at air transfer openings;
- sound reducing ceilings with high NRC were used;
- gasketing was added to doors for an effective sound seal;
- thicker glass on exterior walls for a higher STC to reduce roadway noises.
- Materials – manage VOCs from furniture, flooring, insulation and paints.
- Mind – access to onsite outdoor restorative spaces and enhanced access to nature through green spaces on the site.
- Community – the universal design is compatible for people of all abilities and is equipped with a breastfeeding room and single user toilets.
As a healthcare provider, it is great to see that SSM Health is taking an innovative mindset to well-being and setting an example for the industry with WELL certified buildings. For healthcare spaces, the benefits of WELL are shared by staff and patients. Promoting healthy lifestyles through the built environment aligns with the mission of SSM Health and it has been great to be involved in these discussions. Looking to learn more about pursing WELL with your healthcare facility? I’d be happy to start the conversation, and we also have two WELL accredited members on our team I can connect you with.
John Ford, AIA, NCARB, EDAC, LEED AP
Senior Design Architect