Only the best: Griffin’s great design hunt

Griffin Hospital’s route to the best designed hospital system in America was along a series of benchmarking experiences that began in the early 1980s, when hospital managers surveyed their Derby, CT, community to find out why their facility was held in such low esteem.

That first community survey in 1982 has become biannual, and Griffin also conducts quarterly and concurrent patient surveys designed to assess satisfaction with its patient-driven care model. (See "Griffin’s design, care model make it a hot benchmark," p. 53.)

But it wasn’t until 1990, during a literature search when planning for a major renovation, that Griffin managers turned up a reference to the Planetree patient care model of the Planetree Organization, San Francisco. In the patient-driven Planetree Model, they found a philosophy that would work only if the physical plant accommodated it.

Renovation would include construction of a new medical/surgical building and remodeling of two other buildings. Armed with the Planetree philosophy, Griffin managers began a nationwide search for designs that would meet their exacting care plan.

The site visit team included William C. Powanda, vice president of support services, Patrick Charmel, senior vice president of operations; Lynn Werdal, RN, MS, vice president of patient services; and representatives from the hospital’s architectural firm, Stecker, Labau, Arneill, McManus in Glastonbury, CT. Team members varied from visit to visit but consistently included high-level hospital administrators and the architects.

The team targeted various Planetree facilities across the country: Pacific Presbyterian and California Pacific hospitals in San Francisco; San Jose (CA) Hospital; Mid-Columbia Hospital in The Dalles, OR; and Beth Israel Hospital in New York City.

While only one of these hospitals is fully a Planetree facility — Mid-Columbia — team members quickly grasped the design concepts, Werdal says. Those concepts included no central nursing stations; resource rooms for patients and their families; carpeting; indirect lighting, soothing colors; and artwork depicting landscapes.

"There was lots of wood used throughout, and wall coverings to create a warm, healing environment," she says.

In talking with staff on the Planetree units, the site team saw how nurses accommodate patients’ schedules, not vice versa. For instance, if patients are late risers, they are not awakened at 6:30 a.m. for blood pressure tests or breakfast. The team also studied how these facilities use patient education to share medical records with patients and involve families in patient care.

The architects also provided sites to visit. It was on one such trip — to Memorial Hospital in Hollywood, FL — that the team found the prototype for Griffin’s semiprivate room: an L-shaped room with the bath used as a divider. This basic model would evolve at Griffin into both semi-private and private rooms that accommodate overnight stays by relatives.

To perfect the designs, Griffin rented space in a nearby warehouse and built full-scale mock-ups of the rooms. Employees and focus groups were invited in for consultations. Equipment was moved in and around — dozens of times. The sink migrated from one side of the room to the other and back. Every type of care team that might enter a patient’s room, brought its equipment and tried out each variation. The results were rooms that not only worked for the staff but pleased the patients.

Since completing the new and renovated facilities in 1995, Griffin has won four major architectural awards for design: Modern Healthcare/ American Institute of Architects’ 1996 Design Award, the American Hospital Association’s VISTA Award, the New England Healthcare Assembly/Boston Society of Architect’s Award, and the International Center for Health Design/Contract Design Magazine Award.

Representatives and benchmarking teams from nearly 200 health care organizations and hospitals in the United States and overseas have visited Griffin over the past two years, including teams from Japan, England, Norway, Germany, and Australia. More than 75 architects have visited as well.

"I know I’ll come back as a tour guide," Werdal says with a laugh.

The pace of benchmarking visits shows no signs of slacking, she says, although Griffin charges $2,500 for a site visit.

[Editor’s note: If you would like to set up a site visit or learn more about Griffin Hospital, you can visit them on the World Wide Web at or call Powanda or Werdal at (203) 732-7515.]