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Families test layout of patient suites for new centre for children with health complexity

Designing a bran​d new centre for children and youth living with health complexity, when nothing exists like it in Canada, poses a unique challenge. It’s also an exciting opportunity to partner with families who are experts in their children’s care.
family touring mock-up of patient suites
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A unique centre and program

The new centre at 21 Avenue and Slocan Street in Vancouver will serve children and youth with the most complex health needs from across BC and Yukon. These are children with chronic and often rare conditions who require round-the-clock care. Many are dependent on medications, technologies, and other specialized equipment such as ventilators, feeding tubes, and mobility devices. The Slocan centre will offer on-site and virtual services to these children and youth, their families and caregivers, and health-care providers. It will become a new program of BC Children’s Hospital.

A committed and passionate group of parents, caregivers, and former patients has been working with the BC Children’s Slocan Site Redevelopment Project team for almost two years, helping to define the program and the early design concepts for the building.

Testing the building des​​ign

So far, this partnership with families has proved invaluable in developing the building design for the new centre. Based on family input from earlier consultations, the architectural team working on the project, IBI Group​, put forward a preliminary concept of the patient suites planned for the future centre.

The project team and architects then built a physical model of a suite to scale, to test out the design and layout. The model was framed with lumber, with walls made of foamcore. It included a mix of real and mock versions of furniture, equipment and other elements that families might encounter in the rooms. Based on feedback from the families, clinicians, and operational staff who toured the model, the team was able to move elements around in real time to see how the changes might work.

Refining the ​vision

Seven families and two former patients toured the mock-up, while others viewed a recorded walk-through online. Their feedback led to significant changes in the layout and helped refine the vision for the suites. 

Originally, each suite was to accommodate one family in two adjoining rooms with a shared bathroom. Project staff also considered the option to split the rooms between two families if the need arose. Testing this option with parents quickly made it obvious that it would be difficult to achieve. 

Parents explained that they needed a counter and sink to prepare food and medication next to the child’s bed, and not in the adjoining room. Sharing a bathroom would pose significant challenges for families.​ Others pointed  out the need for both open space and ample storage.

“The amount of space and infrastructure we need to care for our children is hard for people to understand. We travel with so much equipment, and we need a place to set it all down and plug it in.” – Darlene Schopman, parent

Former patients and families also noted tight corners and narrow corridors. They suggested using modular furniture that could be moved easily, since each child and family have unique needs and preferences. They spoke of comfortable beds and chairs, uncluttered spaces, and large windows for natural light. They also emphasized accessibility considerations for family members who might be in mobility devices.

Suites with a hospit​​ality feel

The families’ feedback led to a redesign of the rooms into a true “suite.” One room will be set up with some medical infrastructure to support a child or youth, while the adjoining room will serve as a comfortable guest room for the rest of the family, with plenty of storage. A sliding door between the rooms will allow for an integrated space, or a separation if that’s what a family prefers. 

“The suite can now provide more of a hospitality experience, which is the intention of the suites envisioned for the Slocan centre. Families will stay here to learn and practice new care techniques for their child before returning to their home community. We want that stay to be as comfortable as possible, and to be closer to what the family might have set up in their own home.” –​ Scott Fraser-Dauphinee, senior director, Slocan Site Redevelopment Project 

The families’ input is being incorporated into the final floor plans for the centre, which will be submitted to the City of Vancouver as part of the building permit application in early 2023. 

Next steps: designing the clinic​​al services 

The next phase of the project will focus on the design of the services that will be offered at the centre. 

“I’m very excited to continue working with our group of former patients and families as we really start to drill down into the services that will be offered at the Slocan site. This is the work that I’m truly passionate about. And I want to invite any other families out there who want to contribute to get in touch with us.” – Tessa Diaczun, clinical project leader, Slocan Site Redevelopment Project

Any families, caregivers, or former patients who are interested in joining this work can contact the project team at​.

A sincere thank you to all the families and patient advisors who took the time to tour the suites (in person and virtually) and provided such invaluable guidance to the design team.

BC Children's Hospital; design; health complexity; patient experience; Patient feedback; Planning and Design
Children's Health
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