Photo courtesy of Allseating Corp.

The latest hospital furnishings incorporate modular components that allow for a variety of configurations and customization. This complements the trend toward multifunctional environments that improve the hospital experience for patients and visitors.

Architecture and furniture play an important role in how staff, patients and families experience the space, according to Joel VanWyk, director of health care products, Herman Miller Inc., Zeeland, Mich. “Historically, these elements have been approached independently. Better outcomes can be achieved by considering both factors along with an understanding of people and processes.”

A closer look

Aesthetics, family friendliness, ergonomics, bariatrics and cleanability continue to drive improvements in the design and manufacture of hospital furnishings. Here is a closer look at how each of these factors is being addressed by manufacturers:

Aesthetics. More families are selecting hospitals based on whether they offer a clean, calming environment. Furniture designers are meeting this demand. For example, Allseating Corp., Mississauga, Ontario, offers a bronze frame finish with wood arm caps that exudes the warmth of wood, while providing the durability required for the health care landscape. “The key is designing a product that looks as though it would fit into a residential setting, but is built to withstand the health care environment,” says Michelle Crill, health care program director.

The Palisade Collection from Nemschoff/Herman Miller, introduced in 2014, includes furnishings for patient rooms that encourage guest participation in the healing process by creating a sense of belonging and a connection to the broader care team. “This year, Nemschoff unveiled additions to the collection that extend these inclusive qualities to lounges and waiting rooms. Palisade gives people of all ages and abilities choices for accommodation, as its unifying visual language gives interiors a cohesive look,” VanWyk says.

With a design based on consideration for the emotional and physical needs of people, the Palisade Collection breaks the sameness found in most institutional settings, allowing space planners to achieve an interesting topography and a residential vibe, VanWyk adds. “Palisade accommodates postures ranging from lounging to perching to playing. In addition, the collection is designed to accommodate scooters and wheelchairs,” he says.

Health care furnishings traditionally have equated durable with clunky, according to Rosalyn Cama, president, Cama Inc., New Haven, Conn. “However, durability and style can be reconciled. It just takes a few extra steps in the industrial design process. We’ve enjoyed our work with IOA Inc., Thomasville, N.C., for this very reason,” she says.

Cama adds that health care styling does not need to look like a residential aesthetic nor a hospitality aesthetic. It must be defined in its own genre; it must support illness and injury and promote care delivery and well-being.

“The equivalent is akin to an automobile seat needing to be unique both for function and safety, not just aesthetic,” Cama says. “The appropriate industrial design features are known by the masters and continually improve as the product becomes more specific to care delivery outcomes.”

Family friendliness. Furniture solutions that provide intuitive features are important so that family members don’t have to ask for assistance — one example being sleepover products that convert from a chair to a sleepover option. “For example, KI’s LaResta provides ample seating for three to four adults by day and can easily convert to a sleepover solution. Storage for personal items and bedding is provided and power can be integrated,” says Frank Verhagen, health care market manager, KI, Green Bay, Wis.

Two of Marlton, N.J.-based Global Furniture Group’s last four introductions have been convertible sleep solutions for family members. The company’s Dreme sleeper bench is engineered with a space-saving profile and a more generous sleep surface than a standard sleeper. “We are adding storage compartments with seamless liners, a laminate front panel and back and arm options,” says Beth McGrew, director of health care. “Our Sleep-Eez sleeper chair has an intermediate chaise position to help a guest transition from a sit to sleep state.”

Ergonomics. Ergonomic design is essential for comfort and safety, especially in health care environments that serve a range of ages, sizes and functional abilities, experts agree. This has led to enhanced flexibility of furniture design that provides comfort for the needs of all users and still supports the clinical needs of health care personnel.

“Ergonomics is vital to what we do,” McGrew says. “We design to keep caregivers injury-free and we recognize how important it is for patients and residents to do as many things independently as possible. Mobility fosters better outcomes, but it also helps patients maintain a sense of dignity and self-respect when in a vulnerable or compromised state.”

No two patients are alike, which poses a challenge when it comes to ergonomics and comfort, according to Lauri Waidner, marketing manager, Champion Manufacturing Inc., Elkhart, Ind. “A few inches can make a big difference. For example, a higher seat can help a patient enter and exit a chair. Champion’s Classic, Ascent and Ascent II product lines feature higher seat dimensions just for this purpose,” she says.

“The powered recline function of Champion chairs not only empowers patients to find their individual comfort positions, it also helps reduce lifting by the hospital staff when a patient is too weak or frail to recline or sit back up,” Waidner adds. “Champion’s new Comfort-3 Eco chair is fully powered. This includes recline, Trendelenburg position and vertical height adjustment to bring the patient up to a treatment height for the caregiver and then down again for easy exit.”

Bariatrics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Hospital furniture is designed to accommodate that reality. For example, KI offers a variety of seating solutions that address the needs of those at heavier weights. “Safety is the No. 1 consideration when designing bariatric solutions. KI’s bariatric seating safely accommodates a user weighing up to 750 pounds — addressing safety in ingress and egress along with structural integrity that visually assures the user,” Verhagen says.

Addressing the issue of dignity, KI designs solutions that integrate within all furniture collections. “Universal design is the ultimate consideration — solutions that meet the needs of all users, not segregating users based on size,” Verhagen adds. “For example, KI’s Arissa demonstrates universality in design. It is tested to accommodate users to 750 pounds, yet can be used comfortably by all.”

More development is needed to accommodate people at the other end of the spectrum, according to Cama. “We’ve done a remarkable job of accommodating those who have scaled up in weight, allowing them safe places to sit and better spaces in which to move around. This has, however, created a detriment to those who are slight in physique and frail,” she explains. “For a small-statured individual, getting out of a wider seat is risky as arms for lift assist are too far apart, and navigating a double-wide wheelchair by a frail family member is almost impossible. More design choices are needed.”

Cleanability. The ability to clean furniture and upholstery is a key requirement in the health care sector. Proper product sanitation improves the patient and family experience and, more importantly, prevents infection. However, challenges abound in this area.

Cleaning agents in use today can be destructive to both furniture and upholstery if they aren’t rinsed with soap and water after disinfecting the surface, according to Crill.  “As an industry, we are working to innovate in this area, specifically by offering nonporous Corian arm caps, metal and upholstery options that don’t break down,” she says. “Removable covers are commonplace, but ease of removal is what allows facilities to refresh spaces more frequently. This relieves stress on staff members, keeps hospital and clinic spaces hygienic and increases the lifespan of furnishings.”

It is important that providers collaborate with their furniture dealers and manufacturers when making decisions about disinfectants so they can choose something that is compatible with the soft surfaces found in patient seating, according to Waidner. “We often find that hospitals have standardized on a product for universal use that technically is only suited for hard, nonporous surfaces,” she says. “When this disinfectant is applied to soft surfaces such as upholstery, you quickly see the degradation of the upholstery surface, which creates an infection-prevention issue.”

Global Furniture Group is receiving more requests for metal over wood in acute care hospital environments. “We seal the underside of all of our health care seating for cleanability and infection control. Also, we are doing more sealed seams and bedbug-resistant modifications than ever before,” McGrew says.

Other innovations

Among furniture innovations, Steelcase Health, Grand Rapids, Mich., recently introduced the Embold collection of seating and tables that bring residential styling into hospitals and off-site facilities. The collection offers versatility — from size to fabric to materials options — to help health care organizations create comfortable, welcoming environments that support a wide range of people, needs and spaces, according to Michelle Ossmann, director, health care environments.

KI recently introduced Tattoo, which the company states represents a new way to perform space planning. “Tattoo started as a personalized solution for a company that wanted to provide employees with work stations they could adjust on demand to suit their individual work styles. It’s an approach to space planning that puts control in the hands of the user. In addition, Tattoo helps [organizations] align their cultural, brand and functional needs by creating dynamic and engaging workplace settings,” Verhagen says.

Allseating’s new, modular, soft-seating system, Exchange, is based on seven primary components that can create 2,725 different configurations. “The idea behind Exchange was inspired by building blocks; its modularity and potential for customization through tablet arms, power/USB and privacy screens allow for cohesion across an entire floor plan, from administrative area to waiting room,” Crill says. “Exchange allows for minimal parts inventory and can be reconfigured as the needs of a facility change.”

What are the key challenges to specifying health care furniture in off-site facilities such as clinics and ambulatory units? One big issue is the need to adjust to changes in population and health care delivery, experts agree. Furniture that is designed with flexibility in mind, that can shift and adjust in an uncertain future, will help organizations address future needs in this area.

Medical furniture needs to accommodate higher-acuity patients and situations in these ambulatory settings, which requires an evolution in patient seating, says Waidner. “Champion’s Comfort-3 Eco chair is one such product: a comfortable chair with many powered features to support a variety of therapies, examinations and procedures in a way that comforts the patient and supports the caregiver.”

Functional future

Waidner sees the balance between functionality and aesthetics swinging back a bit toward functionality in hospital furnishings. She expects the focus to become more balanced between making it beautiful and making it work, which will benefit patients, staff and facility managers.

Neal Lorenzi is a freelance writer based in Mundelein, Ill.

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Easy to adapt

Exchange is a modular soft-seating system that supports both active work and relaxation in today’s evolving health care environment. Allseating Corp.

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Day to night

Sleep-Eez makes healing connections sustainable by giving family and friends a comfortable place to lounge and sleep. Global Furniture Group

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The Palisade Collection accommodates people of all ages and abilities while giving interiors a cohesive look. Nemschoff/Herman Miller Inc.

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Simple function

The IoA Cama Glider for health care facilities delivers both style and ergonomic support with the added feature of stress-releasing motion. IOA Healthcare Furniture/Cama Inc.

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Support system

The Embold Collection offers a range of materiality, encouraging creativity and expression in health care spaces. Steelcase Health

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The multitasker

The Ruckus chair can easily be used by patients and caregivers to position themselves in a comfortable way while receiving or providing care. KI Inc.

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Perfect position

The Comfort-3 Eco is fully powered for patient and staff comfort. Champion Manufacturing Inc.