A Bridge Back to Home – Designing Short-Term Inpatient Rehab with the Whole Patient in Mind

dsgw_Rebecca Lewis By Rebecca Lewis, DSGW Architects, Director of Healthcare Design

DSGW designs short-term transitional care facilities where patients recover from life changing illnesses and injuries. The English word “transition” originates from the Latin—transitione—implying “a going across or over”. This definition makes a lot of sense for how we work.

In DSGW’s healthcare design, we see “transitional care” not as something temporary, but in its older sense as a crossing over, a bridge to the future. We design settings for patients to learn the physical skills—such as negotiating stairs or bathing— that they will use everyday when they return to their homes and families.

Our recently completed short-term rehabilitation facility for Benedictine Healthcare in Duluth addresses the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of patients. People recovering from a serious car accident or a broken hip may never regain all of their former abilities. The challenge is to help them accept and adapt to this change. The following are strategies that we continue to pursue to design the most effective short-term care environments.

Design for Privacy and Real-World Challenges

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The short-term inpatient rehab single patient room with private bathrooms at Benedictine Health Center.

Short-term rehab patients and their families need choices in privacy and sociability—quiet serene spaces to spend time as a family and public settings where they can socialize with other patients, visitors and staff. In response, Benedictine Healthcare we converted double rooms to 30 private patient rooms, each with its own bathroom.

Benedictine’s lounges and nursing station are welcoming and non-institutional.

Based on established research, we designed the public rehab areas to approximate conditions patients will encounter including how to negotiate a kitchen and such physical challenges as carpets, narrow hallways, and front steps. The patients’ private bathrooms are designed as places to practice skills such as using a wheelchair or walker.


Design for Personal Connection

DSGW_BHC_nurse station
The nurse station design encourages interaction with family members and patients.

For patients, being out in public matters too. We took special care in designing the nursing station to encourage patient interaction with staff in a comfortable setting. Sitting down at the nurse’s station can be important for patients’ social experience. The counter is set at a level so that patients can pull up in their wheelchairs and talk eye to eye with nurses and other staff including the Benedictine Sisters. These seasoned caregivers offer deep insights and reassurance about rehab and the life changes that patients may face when returning home.

We see rehab patients as whole individuals who have learning, physical, and emotional needs—and we design spaces to reflect this human spectrum. Sometimes, it’s the conversations that matter most. When patients come to Benedictine, they’re not only learning new skills but adapting to change as they cross over to a new stage of life.