Rhapsody in blue: Citation of Merit winner Therapy Suites at Rice Care Center, Willmar, Minn.

While architecture and design challenges often come in the form of site constraints or opposing visions, the chief obstacle for the construction of the new Therapy Suites at Rice Care Center was a state law that limits construction projects for facilities receiving reimbursement dollars to a relatively small budget of $1.4 million per year.

When executives from parent organization Rice Memorial Hospital and the Rice Care Center approached the firm of Horty Elving in Minneapolis with the idea to expand and offer new services, principal Rick Moore, AIA, ACHA, and his team sat down to work with the owners and administrators to develop a master plan that would fulfill Rice Care Center’s desire for growth while meeting the restrictions imposed by the state.

Under those restrictions, Moore knew that Rice Center would have to divide its plan for a large rehabilitation facility into two parts. The now-completed Therapy Suites is a 13,110-square-foot, 23-room, post-acute care and rehabilitation addition to the center’s existing skilled care facilities.

Environments for Aging 2012 Citation of Merit Winners

With creative solutions to design and healthcare challenges, four projects inspired Environments for Aging’s annual design competition this year. A panel of 16 esteemed jurors—architects, interior designers, care providers and educators—evaluated the nominees for this year’s top honors.

We’ll be featuring a winner a day this week. We hope you’ll be inspired by these exemplary examples of environments for aging.

Each of the 23 private bedroom and bathroom suites hosts residents for an average of three weeks—a brief stay compared to the skilled, LTC wings at Rice Care Center. This gave way to the direction for Horty Elving’s design: a hospitality model, rather than a residential one. Moore says the idea was to create a “pleasant, pampering experience; that of a nice hotel or resort,” and, “to have the environment be comfortable and supportive, but not to feel like home, since the goal is to have the residents return to their homes.”

Moore and his team toured luxury hotels throughout Minneapolis to identify those features that would make sense in a rehabilitative setting and provide convenience, as well as a sense of comfort and hospitality to its guests. The result of these field trips is “a skilled transitional care unit that looks more like a fine hotel than a healthcare facility,” says Moore.

The interior manages to be simultaneously warm and contemporary. A lively shade of blue, clean-lined furnishings and vibrant artwork provide energy, especially in the common living area. Resident rooms share some of these elements but are more restful. Also borrowed from the hospitality model were custom furnishings and appointments, as well as attention to branding. The rooms’ finishes include custom wood headboards with accent lighting, plush (yet functional) carpeting and custom casework with refrigerators and desks. Bathrooms are also well appointed with stylish tile, solid surface vanities, plush terrycloth robes and toiletry kits bearing the “Therapy Suites at Rice Care” logo.

Of course, style and function must work together toward this transitional care unit’s ultimate goal of rehabilitation, so the spaces and features of Therapy Suites support the resident in regaining his or her independence.

Moore and his staff employed a small household model that encourages residents to become stronger and more independent by creating destinations within the unit, but also limiting the distances residents must walk to reach dining, therapy and living rooms. An open and flowing living, dining and kitchen space serves as the heart of the unit and encourages closeness and social support among residents and staff, which can help the rehabilitative process. Easy access to the therapy room—as well as its picturesque view of a courtyard—encourages residents to use the facility, often lessening the length of their stays.

Moore says that integral to the project’s success was input from all stakeholders, including board and community members, staff and administrators. “Visioning sessions provided a list of goals for the project and an idea of what the space should be. It is always a good starting point,” Moore says. “Then we can work down through those goals and refine them.” Of all groups, staff input is most critical, he adds. “They’re the ones who are going to have to use it. They tend to reject it if they’re not brought along. The facility is adjusting to changes in how it will operate, and we must work to support that.”

Horty Elving and Rice Care Center’s goal “to encourage residents to say more active, involved and engaged” was met with a hotelier’s mindset, energetic design and an environment that encourages both social support and independence.

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