Redesigning a rehabilitation centre for the future

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Entrance to the new West Park Healthcare Centre, a 316-bed facility overlooking Toronto’s Humber River valley that centralizes the rehabilitation care previously scattered across three buildings.West Park

Graham Donoghue credits the rehabilitation program at University Health Network’s West Park Healthcare Centre for giving him the confidence and skills he needs to return to life at home after the amputation of his right leg in January. But his last month in the program in a brand-new facility, he says, has been a revelation.

“The room I was in before in the old building was a shared ward, and here it’s private. I’m just flabbergasted at how comfortable and spacious the room is; I can wheel around there like it’s a racetrack,” Mr. Donoghue says.

He’s one of the first patients to move into UHN’s new 316-bed West Park facility that centralizes the rehabilitation care previously scattered across three buildings into a six-storey, 730,000-square-foot building overlooking Toronto’s Humber River valley.

“West Park’s new capacity is essential,” says Shelley Ditty, West Park’s vice-president of campus development and support services.

According to a recent study by the GTA Rehab Network, the need for specialized rehabilitative care is increasing as Canada’s population ages – owing to such things as strokes and joint replacements – and the number of low-intensity rehab beds is still not sufficient to fully meet current demand.

Seven million Canadians aged 65 and older now account for 19 per cent – nearly one-fifth – of the total population, up from 16.9 per cent in 2016, according to Statistics Canada.

By 2051, almost one quarter of the population could be aged 65 and older.

To alleviate demand pressure, the opening of West Park Healthcare is a welcome addition to rehabilitation capacity in the Toronto area.

As soon as you walk through the building’s bronze-toned entrance, it’s clear a prime objective was to make West Park feel residential rather than institutional. The compact lobby features natural light pouring through floor-to-ceiling windows and lounge chairs arranged around a gas fireplace.

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Wide corridors with seating alcoves at regular intervals encourage walking and taking a break or have conversations with visitors or other patients.Patrick St-Arnaud

The facility, which was 15-plus years in the planning, has two wings dedicated to inpatient care and one for outpatient services that are adapted to individual needs, says Ms. Ditty. “Rather than having to adjust to the furniture, the furniture adjusts to you.”

Tables can be raised or lowered for use with various mobility aids; in spacious elevators, the large buttons are arrayed in a horizontal band at wheelchair height.

Everywhere, there are views outdoors and references to nature, in keeping with West Park’s 120-year history as Toronto’s original tuberculosis sanitarium – a facility for convalescent care.

Our goal was to bring the feeling of being outdoors, indoors.

Marsha Spencer, business practice leader, CannonDesign

It was founded in 1904 by Sir William Gage, president of W.J. Gage Publishing, which created the famous Dick and Jane readers. He bought what was then a rural farm 16-kilometres northwest of Toronto’s core to establish the Toronto Free Hospital for the Consumptive Poor. It featured broad porches and expansive grounds with park benches for tuberculosis patients to recover in the open air.

Over the years, West Park’s programs have broadened and now include rehabilitation and treatment for a range of respiratory, stroke and neurological conditions, amputation and acquired brain injury.

“What we’re doing in the new building may not be flashy, but a lot of thought went in to making it effective and comfortable,” says Marsha Spencer, business practice leader of CannonDesign in Toronto, part of the architectural team that includes Montgomery Sisam Architects and landscaping by Vertechs Design Inc.

“Our goal was to bring the feeling of being outdoors, indoors,” she says.

For instance, in all the rooms the windows extend almost to floor level, and patients in their beds always have a view outside. The inpatient units have expansive landscaped terraces, so even if patients can’t get outside, they are able to enjoy the view and feeling of being outdoors.

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A historic photo from the 1920 shows tuberculosis patients on outside terraces in the winter.Supplied

The terraces are tiered so both light and shade are available, and glazing doesn’t go all the way to the top to permit natural air flow.

More than 80 per cent of the rooms are single occupancy, a big step up from the previous buildings which featured wards with up to four beds, Ms. Spencer notes.

Every room has its own three-piece washroom and wardrobe. Tracks in the ceiling allow mobility aids to be relocated anywhere in the room for patient access. The turning radius in every room exceeds standards for wheelchairs and the bathrooms include roll-in showers.

The outpatient rehabilitation area significantly expands the range of rehabilitation equipment available. A vast therapy pool features warm water at different depths and equipment including an underwater treadmill. There are also fully outfitted apartments that include a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom for patients to practise the tasks they will face on their return to home life.

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Patient rooms feature tracks in ceiling for mobility aids.Patrick St-Arnaud

Large, coloured signs on walls in corridors make it easy for wayfinding as patients practise walking and manoeuvring their mobility aids, Ms. Ditty notes. There are distance markers on the floors for patients to keep track on how far they have walked. There are also seating alcoves decorated with inspiring natural scenes at regular intervals along the corridors, to take a break or have conversations with other patients.

Two of West Park’s former facilities, the Ruddy Building dating to 1938 and the Gage Building from the early 1980s, will be demolished to make way for landscaping and a new entrance road in the next phase of redevelopment, Ms. Ditty says. A third building from 1979 will be renovated and become the UHN Reactivation Care Centre. The project is expected to be completed by June, 2025.

Meanwhile, Mr. Donoghue says he’s ready to handle life in a wheelchair at his home in Milton, Ont.

“I owe it all to the people here,” Mr. Donoghue says. “The surroundings are first class. If you’ve got to be in the hospital, this is the place to be.”

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