San Ysidro Health Center paid about $12 million for the 46,016-square-foot Chula Vista building in March. It is currently being renovated and due to open this December.

San Ysidro Health Center paid about $12 million for the 46,016-square-foot Chula Vista building in March. It is currently being renovated and due to open this December.

San Ysidro Health Center is using what’s called evidence-based design to inform the renovation of its new three-story clinic and urgent care center in Chula Vista — and streamlining health care in the process.

That’s because the look and layout of a hospital is a critical part of ensuring a patient’s fast road to recovery, said Jean Young, president of the San Diego design firm Young + Co. Inc., which is leading the San Ysidro renovation.

Designers rely on peer-reviewed research to determine what kinds of décor keep patients calm and stress-free. The current understanding in the health care field is that design can significantly impact safety, operation and clinical outcomes for patients — and influences the financial success of health care organizations, she said.

“It’s not just a decorating job — it’s an opportunity to use strategic design to create what we call ‘healing environments’ for patients,” Young said.

SYHC paid about $12 million for the 46,016-square-foot Chula Vista building in March. It is currently being renovated and due to open this December.

Room to Grow

San Ysidro Health Center provides care for more than 82,000 patients in southern and southeast San Diego County, operating almost 30 clinics and patient outreach centers. More than half of its patients are uninsured, but the health system expects a surge of new patients as health care reform comes into effect next year.

“Our current clinics are operating at capacity, and we needed more room to grow,” said Terry Whitaker, vice president of operations of SYHC. “We wanted to position ourselves strategically for the introduction of universal health care in 2014.”

The plan is to consolidate the operations of three different satellite clinics — Chula Vista Family Clinic, Otay Family Health Center and South Bay Family Urgent Care Center — under one roof.

With the new site, the health center plans to expand to include behavioral health and dental services, as well as ancillary services like digital x-rays that weren’t provided before. The expansion will grow the number of SYHC’s available exam rooms from about 40 to about 65, and will employ creative design elements to maximize the use of the space.

Pod Workspaces

The key design feature that aims to improve patient outcomes is the creation of “pods,” an alternative to traditional office spaces. In the new layout, there are no private offices for physicians or clinicians. Rather, they work along with social workers, dieticians and nurses in an open workspace so they can share patient information with greater ease.

“This new layout design will actually change our whole care model, to make it a more patient-centric medical home,” said Maria Carriedo-Ceniceros, chief medical officer of SYHC. “By putting people in pods, which are similar to office bullpens, a whole medical team will be readily available right outside of an exam room if the patient needs help.”

Positive results from the “pod” concept were published in a 2011 case study in the New England Journal of Medicine, focusing on a Denver-based community health center called Clinica. The clinic results outpaced national patient care models after switching to the pod model.

Improving Patient Experience

Young said that additionally, the waiting rooms will be divided with what resemble garage doors, so that in the evenings they can be enlarged to hold classes and group information sessions. By engaging an entire roomful of women who are in their second trimester of pregnancy, for instance, a larger volume of patients can be efficiently taught about how to care for themselves and their babies, Carriedo-Ceniceros said.

Another design element aimed at improving a patient’s experience is that each floor’s look will be inspired by the ocean, the desert or the mountains to mirror San Diego’s own landscapes.

The redesign will also use indirect, natural lighting to reduce overhead glare and wood-looking floors to create a more familiar residential feel. The aim, she said, is to create a non-institutional environment that is uplifting to work in and pleasing to visit for the patient.

“Evidence is showing that hospital environments that simulate nature help lower patients’ stress levels and help promote healing,” Young said.