Public-Patient Advisory Committee making its mark on North Island Hospitals Project design


The complex process of designing new hospitals in the Comox Valley and Campbell River is progressing well, thanks to a comprehensive team of builders, architects, physicians, clinicians and others, including an Aboriginal Working Group and members of the Public-Patient Advisory Committee (PPAC).

The 14-member PPAC represents a broad range of community interests from the Comox Valley, Campbell River and north to include Mt. Waddington. Members come from a diverse range of ages, backgrounds and organizations. The committee also includes representatives from the North Island Hospitals Project and Island Health.

The committee got down to business in January 2015. Its job is to bring community and patient perspectives to the hospital design, advising on improvements that can be made to enhance navigation in the hospitals, providing input on key public and patient areas, to improve access to quality patient care for patients and families in the Comox Valley, Campbell River and North Vancouver Island.

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NIHP Public Patient Advisory Committee member Guy Milner tries out a new ‘smart’ hospital bed in one of the hospital mock-up rooms.

Courtenay’s Guy Milner is a committee member. He retired eight years ago from a social work job in the Calgary area. He was looking for a volunteer activity that would make a meaningful contribution when he saw the call for expressions of interest for the NIHP Public-Patient Advisory Committee in September 2014.

“When I saw the ad, I was really excited because I like looking at ‘big picture’ stuff,” he says. “I’ve always had an interest in architecture and design. I thought it would be a neat way to participate.”

Milner says the committee gelled after a few meetings, once its members got to know each other. Their recommendations to date have led to improvements in a number of hospital design areas. With accessibility as a priority, it’s not surprising that the committee has impacted hospital signage in a number of areas, from welcoming language at the hospital main entrances, to directional signage for Emergency entrances, to changes in signage at the hospital bistros and the use of more pictorial signs. Easy-to-understand signage is important to create an inclusive environment for people with different language abilities.

“There are all kinds of different disciplines around the table,” Milner says of the committee’s membership. “We all have different kinds of eyes. We all bring different life experience to it.
“The challenges are coming up with creative ideas that respect the design guidelines but also meet peoples’ needs. That’s been the hardest part but it’s also maybe the most creative part.”

Among the perspectives Milner brings to the table, is how not to build health care facilities. During his career he saw at least one example of insufficient consultation in another province, where staff and the public were discouraged from offering design recommendations.

“The whole experience was negative,” he says. “My biggest impression of (the North Island Hospitals Project) is that there’s an awful lot of consultation. It seems more respectful. They’re trying to listen to us.

“I have a lot of respect for the fact that they’re doing those community meetings and travelling with them. They’re trying to both inform people and hear what people think about things. I think that’s really amazing, that there’s the openness to listen.”

The work is far from over. Milner was selected by the members of the PPAC to represent the committee on the Interiors/Wayfinding Working Group. He’ll play a key role connecting the two groups as both are working to ensure the new hospital buildings are welcoming and easy to navigate.

“I’ve really considered it a privilege and an honour to meet some of the folks that have been thinking this through and working on it. I had no idea of how unbelievably complex a hospital building is. It’s been totally fascinating.”

The hospital designs have had extensive input from the clinicians and physicians who will work in them. NIHP Chief Project Officer Tom Sparrow says it makes perfect sense to use input from the public.

“Having the end users provide design inputs allows us to build something that directly supports their needs,” he says. “It’s not just Island Health or professional designers and builders from large companies. We’ve taken a proactive approach to understand the real needs of the end users. We are able to maximize the potential of taxpayers’ money to create two facilities that will benefit them directly.”