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Did you know that the noise levels during a shift change can equal those of a jack hammer?  That’s what a study at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, found. Not exactly what comes to mind when I think about healing environments.

As designers and clinicians continue to build a repository of evidence-based design, one of the things we talk about is the need to conduct more studies to better qualify the things we believe but haven't proven yet. Like the harmful effects of noise and the need for more research on how noise prohibits healing.

So if noise levels in a patient unit can equal those of a jack hammer, think about noise levels during renovation of an operating hospital. Unless you have the luxury of renovating an entirely separate wing, you are going to have to deal with the effects of noise in an active, occupied hospital. Think about recovering from surgery with nail guns firing away outside your room or the beep-beep-beep of construction vehicles moving outside your window. A recent study by researchers at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Medicine found that noise inhibits healing and can potentially lengthen a patient’s stay because they aren’t recovering as quickly as they should. And this costs the hospital more money. But hospitals and clinics need to upgrade, add, and reconfigure. It’s reality.

Beyond the noise, renovation within an operating hospital involves many other considerations. Facilities in the U.S. must complete the Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) and meet the Facility Guidelines Institute's healthcare construction guidelines (if applicable in the state in which the facility is located). Keeping dust and other construction mess away from patients is a significant undertaking involving sealing off work areas, using HEPA filters, and minimizing fumes, to name a few. It isn't an efficient process.

Even renovating a single caregiver work area disrupts a patient wing. Drilling, cutting, patching, gluing, painting—it's (literally) a messy process. Consider modular, re-usable products for future applications. They don't interfere with a building's architecture, so the complexity, mess, and noise are significantly reduced when installing, reconfiguring, or moving these products. The overall effect on patients and staff is lessened as well. And that truly is what matters.

Phyllis Marshall-Rice, LEED AP, EDAC, Director of Healthcare Design and Planning for Herman Miller Healthcare, leads the healthcare design team. She's been practicing healthcare design for over 20 years, with expertise in construction projects, labs, pharmacies, and caregiver workstations. Phyllis works closely and extensively with customers at medical schools, VA facilities, and rural hospitals.

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