Where the sky is the limit: atmosphere and nature-inspired design at a New York long-term care dialysis unit

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Where the sky is the limit: atmosphere and nature-inspired design at a New York long-term care dialy
Where the sky is the limit: atmosphere and nature-inspired design at a New York long-term care dialy
A snowy night in 2008 became the impetus for a dialysis center at The Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation.

It was about 8 p.m. and a board of trustees meeting had just broken up. Leaving the building, some members noticed a woman going out for a dialysis treatment. The scene bothered them, recalls Michael Rosenblut, Parker's president and CEO, one of those present.

“I don't believe an 80-year-old woman should be sent out in a snowstorm for dialysis,” Rosenblut says.

Following the conversation that night among the trustees, the Queens-Long Island Renal Institute was born. The dialysis center, which was built last spring, is on the lobby level of Parker, a 527-bed not-for-profit long-term care facility.

One of the goals of the center, which is open to both Parker residents and those in New York City, was to provide a calm, restorative atmosphere.

“Dialysis is not a wonderful way of life, but it's a necessary way of life,” notes Tara Buonocore-Rut, assistant vice president of Business Development at Parker. “We try to make the environment as aesthetically pleasing as possible.”

A natural environment

To accomplish this, the design team went for a nature-inspired theme, explains Carol Tobin, principal of Tobin + Parnes Design Enterprises, which designed the wing. The floor looks like a path in the park. Cloud artwork adorns a dropped ceiling, which mirrors the curves of the path. Wall graphics that display full-height trees “make the walls disappear,” Tobin says.

There is a sense of the space expanding “which hits you right in the face” when you walk into the unit, she adds.
The project, which took about seven months to complete and cost approximately $3.1 million, was not without its design challenges. As a former office space, it posed ceiling and height restrictions. Lighting also was a problem in the building, a concrete structure built during the late 1960s and 70s. Tobin and her team were able to design the space to let in natural light, and use enhanced lighting. The right materials helped mask the concrete.

“The aesthetics of this unit are unique,” notes Dr. Simon Prince, medical director at the dialysis center. “[Other] dialysis units around do not compare at all.”

Besides the soothing atmosphere, the unit comes equipped with all the latest amenities, such as personal TVs and DVDs at each station, and free wireless access. Also, patients can control their own lighting at their stations.
Special care also was taken in finding the right chairs—a very important  step since patients have to sit in them for as long as five hours.

Ultimately, the center is about helping older adults  to live more comfortably and with dignity, Rosenblut notes. That means not making them go out at odd hours and in inclement weather for dialysis treatments.  

“From our standpoint, it's about making sure the 80-year-old who has worked their whole life is given dignity and respect,” he says.


Lessons Learned:1 -It's possible to overcome ceiling, floor and lighting restrictions to create a soothing environment

2 - Using the right materials, you can mask the look of an old concrete building  

3 - Ceiling, floor and wall imagery can evoke open, natural spaces