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Designed To Heal

Severe earthquake damage didn't dismay St. John's Hospital officials. They saw an opportunity to build a new, patient-friendly facility for the 21st century.


This month Health goes to the hospital.


St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica will stage a traditional groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for its new health center--but from then on the half-century-old institution will be shattering the mold in all directions.

The new complex that will rise on St. John's present site will incorporate so many futuristic concepts that the staff doesn't even call it a hospital. "Healing environment" is the preferred phrase.

"We're building for the 21st century," says Bob Klein, vice president, community/public affairs, St. John's Foundation. "We're looking at care for the whole person--mind, body and soul."

Severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the hospital was shut down for nine months, and, like all California hospitals, will be required to meet tougher state seismic safety codes by the year 2008.

"We had remodeled to the point where we couldn't do any more remodeling," says president Sister Marie Madeleine of the private, nonprofit hospital, which was built in 1942 by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, a Kansas-based Roman Catholic Order. The hospital board, meeting the morning after the earthquake, decided to rebuild from scratch.

"It was a good judgment call," she said. "It meant we could build to meet patient and family needs first."

With the help of a $10-million W.M. Keck Foundation grant, the hospital undertook an extensive strategic planning study. Two consulting firms guided hospital officials to meetings with health-care futurists, visioning experts and user groups, among others.

"There are no swamis on this," Klein says. "We had to travel--we took physicians and board members and staff to site visits around the country."

The new St. John's will be built on the current 20-acre hospital site, bordered by Arizona and Broadway on the north and south, and 20th and 23rd streets on the west and east. Santa Monica Boulevard will divide a north campus from a south campus.

The north campus, when completed, will include a diagnostic center and 150-bed hospital (down from the current 317 beds) to serve ambulatory and sick patients. Construction will take place in the grassy areas and parking lots around the existing complex which then will be "taken down piece by piece," says Klein. Total construction cost of the north campus is estimated at $270 million.

"This should be completed by 2005, and we will have the south campus in the midst of development by then," Klein says.

No completion date is set for the south campus, which is planned to eventually include the John Wayne Cancer Institute research facilities, education and conference facilities, a wellness and fitness center, and assisted living and senior housing. A hotel for relatives of patients will be augmented by a health-food store and retail services, such as dry-cleaning and banking, in collaboration with strategic partners.

"It will be a small city," Klein says.

And it will be a futuristic one.

"We looked at the best out there, and we looked at what we're doing now that does and doesn't work," says Maura Winesburg, vice president of quality improvement, St. John's Hospital. "We aren't designing a hospital here but a health-care facility that is focused on the way health care is delivered today, not 50 years ago."

Out of their research into a changing health-care world came plans for a model urban center that encourages people to stay well in addition to treating the sick, recognizes homeopathic treatment as a complement to traditional medicine and emphasizes the importance of the environment to the healing process.

"Their timing is perfect," says Jan Emerson of the San Francisco-based Health Care Forum, a national think tank. "It is just now becoming possible to design your facility around these concepts."


Sitting around a table in the St. John's conference room, Winesburg, Klein and David Gibb, strategic communications director, recently discussed the ambitious plans for the community hospital that traditionally has offered services from obstetrics to geriatrics (including a 24-hour ER) to the west side of Los Angeles.

Architectural renderings and scale models dominated the room, symbolizing a dramatic break with the institutional grid known as the 20th century hospital, with its impersonal sterile tile floors, white walls and glaring banks of fluorescent lights snaking through a labyrinth of hallways and annexes.

Such hospitals were built for an era when patients were admitted for long stays and escorted or wheeled wherever they needed to go, which is no longer the case in today's outpatient era, noted Winesburg.

"We worked from two basic design principles," she said. "Providing very 'clear way-finding' for patients and visitors and creating a physical environment that promotes healing." (Two Santa Monica architectural firms--Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum Inc. and Stone, Marraccini, Patterson--worked together on the project as St. John's Associated Architects.)

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