Gaining Insight from Research is the Ultimate Guide for Successful Healthcare Design, Especially When It Comes to Veteran Care

Posted by on Jul 3, 2019 in Behind the Design
Gaining Insight from Research is the Ultimate Guide for Successful Healthcare Design, Especially When It Comes to Veteran Care

Gaining insight from research is the ultimate guide for successful healthcare design. Just ask the Veterans and VA Staff from Louisiana.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and destroyed the previous VA medical center there, NBBJ collaborated on the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System Replacement Medical Center with two local New Orleans firms, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple and Rozas Ward Architects. Together, the team set out to design a new four-story, 1.6-million-square-foot campus housing 200 beds for critical care, acute care, mental health, and transitional living, as well as an emergency department (ED), intervention center, and comprehensive outpatient services to serve more than 70,000 veterans in 23 parishes throughout the region.

In order to get the design just right, the design team engaged in over 70 hours of observation and collected research from more than 100 veterans, and 180 VA hospital staff from the area, many of them veterans themselves.

The insights gleaned from the research helped guide the design. From their research, they found that veteran care is different and they designed accordingly. For instance, treating mental health is more than a department.

Mental Health Is More Than a Department

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects as many as 30 percent of veterans, compared to 8 percent of the general population. “I have wounds that nobody can see,” one veteran told the team, describing the difficulty that he and many veterans face in their daily lives. Their sharpened reflexes are constantly assessing potential threats within the environment and can be hard to switch off in a non-combat setting. Many southeast Louisiana veterans are also coping with the trauma of surviving Hurricane Katrina. Even veterans not officially diagnosed with PTSD can find themselves dealing with feelings of anxiety, depression, and social isolation.

In response to these findings, the team worked to design spaces and bring in elements that put patients at ease. Wayfinding was simplified with a central concourse that connects to every department in the facility. There are no blind corners, and the staircases are straight, without switchbacks, to increase visibility. The inpatient rooms are arranged around an open staff workspace that feels more like a large, open office environment than a hallway in an inpatient unit. The result is a space that provides an enhanced degree of cognitive legibility and helps reduce anxiety. To read more about the insights and design of the new VA Hospital in Louisiana, see the full article here.

When Patients and Staff Have a Voice

As a healthcare designer, I understand the value of research. Especially when it comes to the patients and staff. No two patients are the same. Understanding their needs and boundaries is crucial in today’s market. Creating a safe, welcoming environment for patients and staff is necessary for hospitals to truly help and sustain. Gathering research directly from the patients and the staff not only gives them a voice, but helps designers and architects design something worthwhile.

Marie Wikoff is the creator of Wikoff Design Studio based out of Reno, Nevada. Her expertise in healthcare design has helped modernize healthcare organizations locally, regionally, and internationally, improving patient experience and outcomes. Her credentials include Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC), American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designer (CHID), the National Council of Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) and LEED AP. Contact Marie Wikoff


Silvis, Jennifer. “Voices of Veterans, Staff Shape New VA Hospital.” HCD Magazine, 26 Apr. 2017,

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