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Design with dignity

Skyland Trail, a mental health treatment organization offering residential and day treatment programs in Atlanta, opened a new clinic in March to provide expanded primary care and wellness services to people with mental health diagnoses. “We’re providing a medical home for that population, with respectful care and clinicians who understand the interaction of physical and mental health issues,” says Beth Finnerty, president and CEO, Skyland Trail. “It’s a beautiful facility,” she adds.

The clinic has four exam rooms, a phlebotomy room, laboratory, pharmacy and infirmary. It features mocha-colored concrete floors in the lobby and a blue, green and cream color scheme throughout that Louise Labus, ASID, senior associate of Collins Cooper Carusi Architects Inc., Atlanta, describes as “calming, natural, clean and classic.” Accent material made from reclaimed wood enhances the natural look and symbolizes the patient experience of recovery and renewal.

Skyland Trail recently broke ground on a young adult campus located up the hill from the organization’s main campus and clinic. Michael L. Collins, AIA, LEED AP, principal, Collins Cooper Carusi Architects, notes hilltop sites are where people traditionally have built their most valued and protected environments. The 32,000 sq. ft. campus for 18- to 25-year-old patients will comprise three connected buildings with an interior courtyard. The site plan includes a number of garden spaces designed for therapeutic activities, outdoor games, artistic expression or peaceful contemplation. Horticultural therapy, recreation and social engagement also are important parts of the Skyland Trail program.

The facility’s treatment spaces are planned to include floor-to-ceiling glass to provide a visual connection to the outdoors. Views will be somewhat protected and away from the courtyard, to minimize distraction. Group therapy rooms are designed similar to classrooms, but will be furnished with mid-size lounge chairs. These rooms also can be used for staff meetings while staff offices will be located across the hall.

The two-story, 32-bed residential wing will be linked to the treatment spaces by a glass-enclosed bridge. The bridge will be closed during the day to prevent patients from isolating themselves in their rooms, away from daily group activities. Metaphorically, it will represent the transition between patients’ home and work environments and their journey to recovery, Finnerty says. A variety of shared spaces in the residential wing, such as a family room, lounge and game room, are meant to encourage patients to socialize outside their private rooms near a strategically positioned nurse station. Casters allow furniture to be rearranged easily, so people can congregate as they choose.

Each patient room will feature a large window with a built-in window seat to give personal spaces a homey feel, explains Jeff Morrison, AIA, LEED AP, associate, Collins Cooper Carusi Architects. Windows in the patient rooms will extend low, so patients can view the landscape even while resting in bed.

Skyland Trail is consulting on the development of HopeWay Center, an adult residential and day treatment campus being designed by Perkins+Will’s North Carolina office. The center, which is scheduled to open next year, will have separate zones for residential, therapeutic, dining and administrative purposes. According to Bill Blue, board chair of the HopeWay Foundation, the project team wants to bring together practical and aspirational concerns to present a warm, welcoming, nurturing, safe environment.

“Walk into lots of behavioral health facilities in this country and you’ll immediately realize what’s missing. What’s missing is good design. Because for a long time it wasn’t prioritized, and it’s pretty clear from the facilities,” says project architect Kevin Turner, AIA, LEED AP, principal, Perkins+Will. “Until we start building buildings that look like we as a society treat people with mental illness in a way that is dignified, then people will want to avoid treatment. We’ve got to send the message that you can receive treatment and you can do it with dignity.”