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The 2022 Healthcare Design Expo + Conference, which was held this past week in San Antonio, Texas, was terrific. Although it was nice to come back together last year in Cleveland after a virtual conference in 2020, this one was different.

It really felt like everyone was back with a renewed commitment to their work. People were eager to share, learn, and enjoy each other's company.

While I couldn't possibly go to everything in the two-and-a-half days I was there, here are some things I took away from the sessions and other events I attended.

Opening Keynote

In the opening keynote, Sociologist and Author Eric Klinenberg spoke about social infrastructure -- the physical places and organizations that shape how people interact.

He reminded us that every city in America has a library and playgrounds -- shared community resources where people come together almost every day. He asked why we're not creating these types of spaces anymore?

I'm not sure we're not. The Riverwalk in San Antonio that is close to the convention center where HCD was held is a great example of that. We also have a fabulous riverwalk in Chicago.

Many hospitals and healthcare facilities have public spaces that support the social infrastructure too. And Metropolis recently reported on some newly imagined public recreation centers that are pretty cool.

So maybe it's just a different way of looking at how to create healthy places where patients and staff can support each other every day?

Educational Sessions

Balcony Design

In his review of Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California as part of the Hospital ICONs series, Don McKahan of McKahan Planning Group found that the outdoor balconies are locked because a patient jumped off one to his death.

So while the intention for these types of outdoor spaces is good, we may need to reconsider balcony design. I hadn't really thought about it in that context before.

Caregiver Wellness

I was sorry to learn from Debbie Gregory of SSR and Terry Zbrowsky of HGA in this session that 44% percent of nurses report an increase in physical violence since the pandemic and 68% report an increase in verbal abuse. This has put an increased focus on workplace safety and security where one day nurses may have wearable panic buttons.

Also during the Q&A, one of the attendees mentioned that his firm has started involving someone from human resources in the design process. Often clients don't understand why, but once he reminds them that the workforce is their most important asset and the hospital is their workplace, they get it.

Net Zero Design

When Kevin Wyrsch of Ingenuity described Boston Medical Center's new behavioral healthcare facility as a healthy building, my ears perked up.

Much can be learned from this innovative adaptive reuse project that achieved net zero using geothermal heat pump systems, right sizing equipment, and creating efficient envelope systems. But a healthy building is much more than just net zero.

It's one that does not harm people or the planet. And although behavioral health centers like this one are designed with patient safety in mind, there was no mention of using healthy building and interior materials or any of the stuff associated with a WELL Building.

So while it's a building that has reduced its harm to the planet, it's not a true healthy building like my colleagues and I described in our peer-reviewed article earlier this year.

Designing for Neurodiversity

Until I went to this presentation, I thought we were all neurodiverse. But even though no two brains think alike, I learned from Rebecca Kleinbaum Sanders of HGA and her colleagues that a neurodiverse person is one that has a brain that works differently from the average, or "neurotypical" person.

A neurodiverse person may have different social preferences, ways of learning, ways of communicating, and/or ways of perceiving the environment than a neurotypical person.

And if we assume that there are neurodiverse individuals in our midst (15-20% percent of us, according to the experts), then what does that mean to design for neurodiversity in healthcare spaces? It means you pay attention to things like color, texture, patterns, lighting, and acoustics -- which are all perceived differently by neurodiverse individuals.

Changemaker Keynote: Ray Pentacost

Maybe it's his training as a minister, but when the 2022 Changemaker Award Recipient Ray Pentacost speaks, you listen -- and learn. As the current Director of the Center for Health Systems & Design at Texas A&M University, Ray's incredible leadership and mentorship roles have changed the way that many professionals and young practitioners think about healthcare design.

Ray has a deep commitment to research in design. But he doesn't believe most design professionals know how to use it.

He spoke urgently about the need to to train architects how to read and critically interpret research. "If we don't train our profession how to read published material and critically evaluate it, we will stay behind the curve," Ray said.

He is right, of course.

Awards Are Us

Holy cow, there were lots of awards given out at this conference.

Besides the Changemaker Award, The Center for Health Design gave out 19 Touchstone Awards for projects that used an evidence-based design process -- with multiple awards going to EYP (now Page), HDR, HGA and HKS.

Healthcare Design magazine recognized eight winners and finalists for its design showcase, three projects for its Remodel Renovation Competition, nine people as Rising Stars, and 10 individuals for its HCD 10 awards program. HDR's design team also got $10,000 in the magazine's Breaking Through conceptual design competition for Bionica, which was presented and voted on by attendees live at the conference.

After naming Cornell Professor and all-round healthcare design rock star Mardelle Shepley as the first ever female recipient of its Lifetime Achievement Award, the American College of Healthcare Architects bestowed the award on her at HCD.

Product Awards

And then there were the Nightingale Design Awards, which went to 20 product manufacturers exhibiting at the conference -- which shows you how great the Expo was this year. A fabric locker for employees from Swiss company Zippsafe was named Best of Show.

The judges really liked the innovative space-saving and sustainable design of the Zippsafe product. Maybe it's just me, but the aesthetics of it seemed a little cold.

And even though it can be removed and cleaned, I wonder if that will be a challenge for environmental services folks. But still an innovative idea.

Next Year's Conference

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of HCD, which was started by The Center for Health Design and Medquest Communications.

The first one was in Miami, Florida in 2003. Joseph Pine II, co-author of the best selling book, "Experience Economy," gave the keynote address.

The 2023 Healthcare Design Expo + Conference is November 4-7 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Presentation proposals are now being accepted. You have until early January to submit yours!

And that's a wrap.

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Photo: Massimo Giaffari.

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Sara Marberry_013-Retouched-New copy

What's my story? I'm a healthcare and senior living design knowledge expert who writes and speaks frequently about trends and issues affecting these two industries. I'm also a strategic marketing consultant and content creator, working with companies and organizations who want to improve the quality of healthcare and senior living through the design of the physical environment. You can reach me at .

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