Meds & ED

Medical Centers can draw talent, spur development and revitalize an area


Beyond providing life-saving care and essential research, medical centers are being recognized as powerful economic engines that can drive the development of an entire region and revitalize core urban communities.

“Do we think of hospitals as open and collaborating with its neighbors to create a place of beauty and healing, or do you become a fortress walled off from the community? Are hospitals places to treat illness, or should they have a broader goal to improve the community?” asked Dougal Hewitt, senior vice president of Bon Secours Richmond Health System in Virginia.

Hewitt — a doctoral candidate at the University of Miami, re-searching the way that the built environment affects our health and wellbeing — answers his question with a resounding vote in favor of hospitals that embrace their surroundings.

“At Bon Secours, we believe our institutions flourish when the neighborhood we are in flourishes. Safe, attractive, healthier neighborhoods make for healthier hospitals,” he said. “We are at a very interesting moment in health care. Institutions that are part of their communities are in better positions to recruit the best workers.”

Bon Secours holds neighborhood planning sessions to create health care campuses that are connected to the community and walkable, which can help combat the rampant obesity problems in America.

“When you create a place of beauty that develops a reputation of being a place of healing and refreshment, you are able to differentiate yourself from your competition,” he said. “Health care is a competitive field. If you frame who you are, that you are not just a suburban developer, you will attract more innovative and more community-focused individuals to your workforce.”

Doctor Jose Andres Restrepo, assistant professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine and chief of Rehabilitation at the University of Miami Hospital, was drawn to working in Miami’s urban core because of the University of Miami’s commitment to improving the urban realm.

“With the new University of Miami Hospital, the medical school campus will blossom as the recession gets better,” Restrepo said of the university that upgraded an old urban hospital rather than building a new facility in the far-flung suburbs. “And, with the construction of two green buildings, the CRB(Clinical Research Building) and BRB (Basic Research Building), the medical school is committed to set an example (of sustainability and campus improvement.)”

“With its prime location and easy accessibility, the medical campus allows all residents of Miami-Dade County to (access) top medical services,” said Restrepo, who was educated in Bogota, Columbia, and served his residency at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in New York. “With the Medical School leadership and the importance of diversity in its work environment, it is fun to come to work.”

Dover, Kohl & Partners of Coral Gables, Fla., created a plan for the University of Miami to make it a premier health center in the United States and the world. The plan addresses the existing urban campus’ lack of cohesive framework and recommends complimentary uses that could make it a vibrant, attractive and economically successful community.

“Medical centers are often perceived as needing their own space rather than being integrated into existing cities, communities or neighborhoods. In current planning practices, it has become all too common to separate land uses and create large, stand-alone, and disconnected destinations,” said Andrew M. Zitofsky, of Dover, Kohl & Partners.

“Great examples of urban medical centers, such as the New York University Medical Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, demonstrate how institutional uses can be blended within a framework of compatible uses and urbanism. Medical facilities are, by default, both large employment centers and destinations of many daily visitors,” he continued. “They have the potential to be powerful economic drivers, to become neighborhood anchors, to create town centers, and to act as catalysts for economic development and investment.”

Mike Ball, director of planning and implementation for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, said the Consortium of nine medical, research and academic institutions that make up the campus, opened positions on its governing board for neighborhood leaders, to ensure strong community input.

“Some of these institutions have been around 100 years, but when they came together 10 years ago, improving the relationship with the neighborhoods was paramount,” he said. “If a building is going up, reach out to the neighborhood to make sure the street connections are there and that we build in a way that doesn’t wall off our edges.”

Ball said, in working with the community, the Consortium has won two prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grants— to design active living communities that are more walkable and bikeable, which promote healthy physical activity, and to make healthy, affordable fresh food available in urban areas.

“We are working with the neighborhoods to create a place where people want to come to work and come for care, and that feels safe and easy to access,” said Ball, noting that the Consortium has a public art program and works tirelessly to maintain curb appeal. “A healing environment outside the building where you go inside for care is a big part of staying competitive.”

In Cincinnati, the Uptown Consortium is dedicated to re-storing and revitalizing a culturally diverse and historic area comprised of three large medical centers, the University of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Zoo.

The Consortium works to promote economic development while creating a sense of place and better access between then neighborhoods and the major medical, academic and cultural institutions. The nonprofit works to make Uptown a safe, attractive and walkable community for its residents, employees, students and visitors.

“The medical campuses championed economic revitalization in Uptown. Since then, over 60 blighted structures have been removed from the neighborhood and $85 million in mixed-use development is either completed or underway,” said Consortium spokeswoman Andi Ferguson. “The medical campuses, so vital to research and development, have a natural synergy with their neighborhood partners who specialize in entrepreneurialism (CincyTech and Bio/Start, for example, provide support and incubation for tech and bio-tech companies, respectively) and innovation (University of Cincinnati).” 

Joanna Lombard, a professor at the University of Miami School of Architecture, is an expert on the impact of the built environment on health and wellbeing.

“Medical centers bring a steady stream of staff, patients and visitors, but the design of the center determines whether that consistent flow provides an economic benefit. The conventional medical office building located in a parking lot is an isolated unit. So is the hospital,” she said. “Typically, people might even drive from one to the other rather than walk across a vast parking lot. This is health care sprawl and the economic benefits are limited to the transactions that take place within the buildings.”

Lombard said health care urbanism planning offers an alternative.

“Within these plans, medical buildings are designed to provide sidewalks and streets instead of just parking lots. Parking is contained behind ‘liner buildings,’ which not only hide the parking, but also make it easy for drivers to navigate, as well as quickly enter the facilities through covered walkways. Second, buildings house a lively mix of shops and restaurants that serve the staff, patients and visitors, as well as the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Lombard said a medical center can be transformed into a town center with amenities that enhance the daily lives of the medical and local community. “Busy staffers can pick up supper at a deli on the way to the car. The pharmacy can move out of the back hall of the hospital to become more like the neighborhood’s corner drugstore, complete with a lunch counter and a book store nearby,” she said. “All of the necessities of life within walking distance encourage everyone to walk, supporting greater physical activity and social interaction, two key contributors to health and wellbeing.”

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