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Recognizing Hospitals as Community Assets

In the past, hospitals were regarded as cold, unfriendly “institutions” where people went to get fixed or repaired. Few from the community would visit a hospital, and when they did it was only to visit a loved one who was sick. Thankfully, healthcare design has evolved just as the role hospitals play within our communities has evolved. Today, hospitals can play a central role in improving the health and wellbeing of our communities, facilitating greater public health investment.

While hospitals should never lose their focus on acute community health needs and offering high-level clinical care, a “fixing” approach is not enough to improve community-wide health outcomes. There has been a noticeable shift in the focus of wellness research literature from an emphasis on disorder and illness (deficits approach) to a focus on wellbeing (asset approach).

Taking an asset-based approach creates a tremendous opportunity for hospitals and the community to think more strategically about upstream solutions, leverage their community benefit investments to address the social determinants of health, and identify protective factors that support health and wellbeing. Hospitals, as a community asset, provide health programs, healing environments, and gathering places to enhance both quality and longevity of life, and promote self-esteem and coping abilities of residents and communities.

New hospital designs are using an “open-door concept” that allows the community access to care and programs, with greater ease. This design encourages greater community participation and integration at all levels of interaction. Whether community members are assisting in the care of loved ones, participating in community-building activities, volunteering at their local hospital, or partnering with healthcare facilities, these are all access points for engagement.

Using evidence-based design, several strategies have been developed for hospital environments that support healing, wellbeing and inclusion. These include:

  • Large welcoming lobbies with friendly café.
  • Views to the outdoors throughout the facility.
  • Patient rooms with space to allow family/friends to participate in care.
  • Program spaces accessible by community groups.
  • Large, multi-purpose spaces for community events.
  • Interior design features that are familiar, inspiring, and that have a warm hospitality feeling.
  • Community-based themes that are sensitive to the characteristics of the region.

With a focus on delivering greater health and wellness outcomes today and tomorrow, the design of hospitals can facilitate access to programs and resources that benefit the health and wellness of individuals and the community, so everyone can live and thrive together.

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