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Archive Surgical Construction 2020

A Manhattan Masterpiece of Modern Design

Q&A with Suzen Heeley, IIDA, LEED, AP, healthcare interior designer and creator of surgery's neat new look.

Suzen Heeley, IIDA, LEED, AP

You helped design Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Josie Robertson Surgery Center in New York City, a state-of-the-art facility that reimagined how spaces appear and function. What did you take away from the project?
It’s important to take chances and embrace the opportunity to create new ideas in surgical design. It’s also essential to think about what staff and patients need, and design around those essential elements. Our new surgery center is a learning lab from which we take concepts that work and apply them throughout the Memorial Sloan Kettering health system.

The facility’s patient waiting area has the look and feel of a modern, comfortable living room. Why was that important?
We set out to create an ambience that sets the tone for patient-centered care. Patients should feel calm and safe when they arrive, and a warm and inviting physical environment plays a big part in embracing them. Overall, the colors, textures, furniture and accessories in healthcare facilities need to be designed for safety, cleanability and durability, but shouldn’t feel cold and clinical.

What are key aspects of modern surgical facility design?
Leveraging limited square footage into multipurpose, functional areas is essential. For example, small staff lounges positioned throughout our facility can be used as impromptu meeting spaces or places to eat or relax. Smart designs can also help with the healing process. We built a lounge for patients called “The Oasis” and bill it as a post-op destination. Patients need to ambulate as soon as possible after surgery, so we created a comfortable space that they’d be motivated to reach during their recoveries. It’s a relaxing place where they can sit with loved ones and meet with surgeons.

Why did you incorporate so much natural light into the facility?
It’s important for patients to connect with the outside world throughout their stay. It’s also important for the mental well-being of staff, who work from early morning to late evening. To ensure inside spaces are bright and inviting, we maximized the number of windows on the skin of the building, but also installed glass walls in rooms that line the perimeter to increase the amount of light that reaches core work areas and hallways.

What features did you include to satisfy hardworking surgeons and staff?
Staff lounges aren’t often prioritized in facility design and end up tucked away in windowless areas. We took the opposite approach. Our lounge is on the building’s top floor, the premier space in the building, and made up of indoor and outdoor spaces where staff and surgeons can relax, eat and hang out together as they enjoy panoramic views of Manhattan and the East River. The lounge also breaks down staff hierarchy. Surgeons mingle with nurses and techs, and have great conversations. Some of our best patient care ideas have come from those informal interactions. OSM

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