Kansas University professor Gregory Thomas noticed some things were wrong last year when he visited his 87-year-old father at a Wichita hospital.
The nurses had to walk a long way from their nursing station to get to patients' rooms. The tools and equipment looked out of date, and nurses had to fumble at times to get patients hooked up for treatment. His father's room didn't have a pleasant view.
"Just leaving there, I felt depressed," said Thomas, chairman of the KU department of design. "It didn't seem like the environment he was in was conducive to getting well."
Thomas had an idea: Why not form a group of KU faculty members to work on improving the overall experience of going to the doctor or staying in the hospital? That's when the concept was born for Design for Wellness, a new collaboration of fine arts and architecture faculty members.
Some people involved in the project have decades of experience working on health care-related issues. Design professor Richard Branham and architecture professor Kent Spreckelmeyer, for example, have worked together since 1985 on projects to improve the design of health care buildings.
"We have this whole cast of characters who are out there doing their own thing. Why don't we just pull them together?" Thomas said. "Nobody's really doing anything new, we're just packaging it differently because we want to make people here at KU and the state know that these kinds of things are going on."
The first project under the Design for Wellness umbrella is a course Branham and Spreckelmeyer are teaching this semester that's helping design emergency exam rooms for two area hospitals. The professors, who do professional consulting work outside their faculty jobs but are not getting paid for the academic project, said they couldn't publicly identify the two hospitals because of a confidentiality agreement.
In a studio inside the Art and Design Building, their students are building a life-size cardboard model of an emergency exam room, with tools, shelves and monitors attached by Velcro the walls. Next month, the students will take the models to two area hospitals, set them up for the day and let doctors and nurses give them a try.
"We're just going to randomly place equipment everywhere so there's no logic to it," said Matt Hutcherson, a graduate student in design from Kansas City, Mo. "We're going to encourage them to create it how they feel it would best exist."
Eventually, the hospitals will be remodeled with the students' input on what the new ER rooms should look like.
"Health care is such a large part of the economy," Branham said. "There's so much construction going on all over the country. The opportunity here is just incredible."
In all, nine faculty members, with expertise in subjects ranging from industrial design to music therapy, have lent their names to Design for Wellness.
"We don't wear lab coats and carry around test tubes," said Thomas, who recently designed a Kansas license plate that will be used to raise money for cancer research. "We're approaching it from other sensitivities and from a design standpoint."