by Carlie Kemp, CID, DSGW Interior Designer
Creating a healing environment means more than choosing a particular carpet type or paint color. What matters is that people feel welcome, that the environment feels comfortable and familiar.
Especially with our work in tribal communities such as the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, clinics are also cultural expressions and community centers.
Here are some general interior design strategies that we use across a range of small clinic projects to foster calming and comforting experiences for patients and the effectiveness of staff.
Design for Partnerships and Trust
The Red Cliff Clinic is designed to focus on partnerships in healing—relationships in which clinicians can know their patients personally with a deeper understanding of their lives at home. Small clinic design should optimize such connections—bringing staff and patients together with minimal barriers, few distractions and clear wayfinding for a sense of where you are.
Open Care Team Areas
The Red Cliff Clinic is designed with the medical home model or “care team” area approach. Doctors don’t have offices, but rather share work areas that are designed for team interaction and flexibility.
A Sense of Ownership through Cultural Stories
Patients are more comfortable when they feel “at home” and hold a sense of ownership. The Red Cliff Clinic is filled with symbolic and artistic references to the Band’s culture. All of the exam rooms and many public spaces are named after cultural symbols such as the “Wolf Room”—identified in signage with both the English and Chippewa version of this name.
Create Positive Distractions
From turtle mosaics in the floor to cabinets of tribal art and artifacts, the clinic’s public spaces are filled with “positive distractions”. They offer the chance for patients and visitors to explore, thereby reducing boredom and anxiety.
Using Color and Design to Guide People
Each of Red Cliff’s clinics are coded with a color expressed in walls and flooring. Color also distinguishes public areas from staff and support zones. Connecting the clinic’s care team areas, the hallways are themed by color with sinuous woodland paths in the carpet—each ending with three colored berries to signify the end of the path.
All of these design strategies foster connection with culture, tradition, and other people. They add up to clinics that are places of gathering and community—something that tribes like the Red Cliff Band have long understood.
The 32,000 sf Red Cliff Clinic includes areas for: dental care, mental health, pharmacy, lab, physical therapy, imaging, community space, staff, and clinical space.