Issaquah hospital is designed to transform health care

June 28, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Workers install 12 flat panel monitors in the Swedish/Issaquah atrium for a video wall to display artwork and information. By Greg Farrar

Groundbreaking design is meant to soothe patients, employees at Swedish/Issaquah

The hospital due to open soon in the Issaquah Highlands is designed to be more than a hospital.

The atrium, all blond wood and glass, resembles a mall or airport concourse more than a health care facility. Crews installed a dozen screens just inside the entrance to function as a digital art piece designed to display nature scenes from the Pacific Northwest. Nearby, baristas prepare cappuccinos and proffer scones.

The hospital is designed to speed healing for patients and to emphasize comfort for employees and guests. The change represents a seismic shift in how the 101-year-old hospital system plans to deliver health care in the 21st century.

“In the last 50 years, hospitals have been sort of fortresses for whatever reason, and we’re seeing them now as more urban amenities, like any other building and how it relates to its neighborhood,” University of Washington architecture professor Joel Loveland said.

The facility is designed to attract the surrounding community, perhaps for a latte at the Starbucks stationed inside the atrium, a yoga class offered on campus or a cooking course in a glass-enclosed classroom.

The outreach is meant in part to transform a trip the hospital from a stressful experience to a comfortable stay if people attending classes or shopping in atrium shops return as patients.

“It’s not anxiety-driven as a lot of hospitals might be,” said Kevin Brown, Swedish senior vice president and chief administrative officer.

Swedish/Issaquah envelopes traditional hospital features in modern qualities. So, patients ambling through the glass doors on opening day July 14 can receive a mammogram or chemotherapy.

Designed to speed patients’ healing

The initial phase, a medical office building, offers primary and specialty care clinics, cancer care, breast care and medical imaging. Plans call for the laboratory and pharmacy to open in the initial phase, too.

The emergency department is due to relocate from a site along Northwest Sammamish Road to the highlands hospital July 14.

The operating rooms, birthing center and other inpatient features should open Nov. 1. That second phase includes 80 hospital beds, and plans call for the facility to expand to 175 beds.

Details built into the facility reflect a hospital designed to soothe the 2,000 people — employees, patients and guests — estimated to pass through the campus each day. The completed facility spreads across 550,000 square feet.

In addition, Swedish/Issaquah is designed to be among the most “green” hospitals in the United States.

Swedish/Issaquah by the numbersThe completed Swedish Medical Center campus in the Issaquah Highlands includes enough plumbing pipes to stretch from Issaquah to Olympia, plus more than a mile of cubicle curtain tracks.

Constructing the hospital campus required:

  • 175,000 bricks
  • 31,075 cubic yards of concrete
  • 750,000 pounds of sheet metal ductwork
  • 544 miles of rebar
  • 6,037 linear feet of storm drain pipes
  • 53 miles of plumbing pipes
  • 8,500 gallons of paint
  • 5,378 feet of cubicle curtain tracks

The completed facility features:

  • 1.27 acres of high-performance glass, or 30 percent of the skin of the building
  • 14 acres enclosed inside campus buildings

Crews diverted 2,398 tons of waste to recycling, for a 93 percent recycling rate, during construction.

The wood veneer cladding the elevator bank is reclaimed Douglas fir from bleachers at schools in Illinois and North Dakota. Outside the elevators, the hospital directory on each floor is a sleek electronic screen.

Only one elevator bank exists, and the hospital numbers rooms as a hotel does, to cut confusion. The physician offices in the medical office building and associated facilities in the hospital line up on the same floor.

Soaring mezzanine spaces double as waiting areas. Furniture is upholstered in bright fabrics — functional, but not institutional.

Transforming the traditional hospital

Employees, physicians and other staffers alike, mingle in a “green room” — a phrase for the comfortable area set aside backstage for performers. The designers eliminated the old-style physicians’ lounge to encourage collaboration.

Downstairs, shops and a café — everyone is careful not to use the term “hospital cafeteria” — line the atrium. Called Café 1910 as a nod to the year Swedish originated, the eatery is focused on healthy options, and lacks deep fryers and soda fountains.

The retail offerings include Lily and Pearl, a deluxe take on the hospital gift shop, and Comfort & Joy, a destination for expectant mothers and newborns. Perfect Fit is a lingerie boutique offering post-operative breast surgery garments and wigs in addition to pajamas and other nighttime apparel. Be Well, another shop, is outfitted in fitness gear and healthy snacks.

(Natalie Kozimor, a Swedish communications specialist responsible for leading tour after tour through the hospital, dreamed up most of the store names.)

The designers also tucked the pharmacy in the retail area for convenient access. Nearby is a flex space for community meetings, education seminars and yoga classes. Patients can also drop off children at a childcare and entertainment center in the lobby.

“In communities that haven’t had a hospital before, this is welcome news,” said Aaron Katz, a principal lecturer at the UW School of Public Health. “Who among us wouldn’t want a really nice, mountain chalet feeling when we go to the hospital?”

Daylight filters from the atrium and throughout the hospital. The building is clad in 1.27 acres of high-performance glass. The insulating glass encompasses 30 percent of the shell.

“One of the major pieces of why we’re seeing more daylight in buildings like this is actually to be not only more helpful to patients and healing to patients, but more healing and productive for their employees,” Loveland said.

Innovations remain unseen by guests

Each patient room is private and designed to be spacious enough for patients’ family members to crash on pullout sofas. Some patient rooms overlook a garden nestled between the hospital wings. From others, patients can look upon another verdant space.

Katz said such features enable Swedish/Issaquah and other hospitals to attract affluent, insured patients.

“One of the ways to do that is to build a shiny, new facility that’s very welcoming and friendly and will attract those well-funded patients,” he said.

Swedish/Issaquah also groups outpatient procedures, such as endoscopies and heart catheterization, in a single sterile area behind a red line on the floor.

The designers arranged the pre-operation area, operating rooms and post-anesthesia care unit in a similar loop.

Other features remain unseen by patients and most employees.

Employees run the facility from a high-tech central command center likened to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. The central utility plant — a collection of boilers, generators and coiled pipes — is a little-noticed centerpiece among the hospital’s “green” features.

“One challenge is creating a welcoming, healing environment in the space that you’re trying to conserve energy in,” said Lee Brei, director of facilities services for the hospital system. “In other words, it’s a beautiful setting here, having lots of windows, lots of daylight. Those are all things that impact the patient to lead to a more positive patient experience and lead to better health care outcomes.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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