By John Easton
Photo by Tom Rossiter

The Center for Care and Discovery is full of the latest technology and designed to support innovation and clinical research. But at its core, the new facility is meant for patients, particularly those who have complex medical conditions or need specialized services not found elsewhere.

This hospital of the future goes beyond housing such advanced features as state-of-the-art medical imaging, hybrid operating rooms and dual-console robotic surgical units. It also is a place where patients and their families feel like they’re in a home that soothes, consoles and heals the soul.

Patients get their first sense of that when they step out of the elevators into the Sky Lobby on the seventh floor, a gathering place where natural light from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows fills the open space.  This was architect Raphael Viñoly’s way of bringing  “the social, contemplative, outdoor space of the [University of Chicago] campus quadrangles into the air.” The seventh floor houses central reception, family waiting areas with comfortable chairs, a chapel, a gift shop and intimate consultation rooms. It also has restaurants and a conference center.

The patient rooms, all private, fill the perimeter of the top three floors of the Center for Care and Discovery. Each patient room faces out, with expansive views of the downtown skyline, Lake Michigan, the University campus and Washington Park. Studies suggest that such natural views of nature can be calming. They even may speed the healing process.

Each patient floor was designed around the specific needs of those who will be treated there. For example, the 28-bed stem-cell transplant unit on the tenth floor combines distinct clinical elements with social and familial amenities. Stem-cell transplants temporarily disrupt the immune system, putting patients at high risk for infections. So access is restricted, the air is filtered and the air flow to and from each room is controlled to prevent germs from drifting in or flowing out.

These transplant patients tend to have long hospital stays—four weeks or more for a full recovery. Their rooms are designed to accommodate family members who want to stay with the patient during such extended stays. The unit has separate bathrooms and showers for family members. The rooms are large, with fold-out couches and storage space for relatives.

The unit has waiting and private consultation rooms where families can meet with the treatment team. There also are two exercise rooms to help patients prevent muscle wasting and decrease the risk of pneumonia that can come with a long hospital stay. Exercise also can reduce the need for rehabilitation after discharge.

Another amenity involves food, which can be a major issue for transplant patients. Many have restricted diets or, because of their medications, may not be hungry at the usual times. In the new hospital, patients can get food on demand by choosing from a menu and calling in their orders, which are delivered to the room within an hour.

“We encourage them to eat as many calories as possible in ways that feel good for them,” said Sally Black, an experienced oncology nurse involved in planning and activation for the new hospital project. “Patients have nights when it’s 8 p.m., and they sense that something’s missing. Sometimes the only thing that will fill that gap is a chocolate sundae.”

Originally published on January 7, 2013.