2014 Veterinary Hospital of the Year: Fostering a family feel
Some might say bigger veterinary clinics seem impersonal, but the cozy design of this Hospital of the Year helps clients and pets feel right at home.
In 1950, Dr. Robert Mueller opened Mueller Pet Medical Center on the outskirts of Sacramento, near the local airport. After the airport moved, the city built up around the veterinary practice and business boomed. Some 60 years later, history has repeated itself as current owner Dr. Ken Schenck has built an updated Mueller Pet Medical Center on the edge of town. And by all means, the new facility is thriving.
“In all these years, Mueller Pet Medical Center has only had two owners, Dr. Mueller and myself,” says Dr. Schenck. “We pride ourselves on our family atmosphere, even as we have grown.”
And grown they have. The original facility was bursting at the seams, with three doctors working three exam rooms, in just 5,000 square feet-with 2,000 square feet of that dedicated to pet lodging. Now, six full-time and two part-time doctors enjoy a whopping 27,000 square feet of luxurious space, all without losing the family atmosphere.
The design process wasn't without its fair share of road bumps, but Dr. Schenck was motivated and determined to see it through to the end. After 12 years, he finally got the hospital his clients and patients deserve-and a 2014 Veterinary Economics Hospital of the Year award to boot.
Photos by Ed Asmus, Ed Asmus Photography
The meandering path to completion
It's a good thing Dr. Schenck has a habit of looking on the bright side of situations, because he frequently had to do so on his long hospital design path. For more than 10 years, he actively sought a space for a new facility, hitting one roadblock after another. When he first realized the need for more space, the practice was producing three times the national average per square foot. “Efficiency helped, but you hit a point where you can no longer grow,” he says. “Our small facility was holding us back. We truly had no spare floor space to do a toenail trim.”
Long story short, he found two available spots with more than two acres on which to build. Dr. Schenck approached the city, battled through zoning changes and secured financing. Then, the bottom fell out of the economy. The day Dr. Schenck was to sign papers on financing, the bank drastically changed the terms. Dr. Schenck walked away and started the financing pursuit once again.
Then the city required that all three businesses to be built in the area be locked in before anyone could break ground. That took a few more years. And any discussions that went through the city council were greatly helped by the fact that Mueller Pet Medical Center had personally cared for most of the council members' pets at some point in its rich history.
“We hit lots of snags, and not everything ran smoothly,” Dr. Schenck says. “But I stayed positive, and am thankful for the relationships I had with the council members. Good relationships go a long way.”
Putting family first
“Our biggest concern in moving from a snug 5,000-square-foot building to a roomy 27,000 square feet was losing that family feel,” says Dr. Schenck. “We attribute much of our business success to the family culture that provides personalized customer service, and we didn't want to lose that.”
Dr. Schenck says his desire to keep the family feel guided his design decisions. For starters, he built his lobby to resemble a cozy living room. Besides the comfortable living-room-style seating, Dr. Schenck included taller chairs and tables. “At a certain age, low, cushy chairs aren't the easiest to get in and out of, so I wanted to offer a variety,” he says.
Freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, coffees and teas are always available. And one of his favorite features is the artwork. Canvas photos of clients' pets grace the walls. Shortly before moving into the practice, Dr. Schenck and his team stoked clients' enthusiasm for the new practice by holding a photo competition on their active Facebook page. More than 400 submissions flowed in. Clients voted for their 35 favorite pet photos, and those are the photos on display in the lobby. The remainder of the photos cycle through a slideshow on a digital picture viewer in the lobby as well.
The addition of a kids' nook completes the family feel. Lots of toys, videos, a desk and even pretend-play veterinary supplies make kids feel at home. And a video monitor allows kids to continue playing while parents watch from the exam room.
“We wanted clients to view the hospital as their place, too, not just ours,” Dr. Schenck says. “It truly is a family hospital.”
While clients and pets are important members of the family, Dr. Schenck didn't forget his staff members during the design process. He gave them a private hospital entrance, a large, fully equipped lounge, two outside patios and the tools to make their jobs easier, including communications systems.
“We haven't found a lot of problems with moving from a small practice where everyone could see each other to such a large place,” he says. “But keeping communication in check was important.” The old hospital, though small, used a loud broadcast system. Now, the medical center employees either find each other via the main treatment room, which links directly to all parts of the hospital, or they just pick up the phone to page one another. On The Pet Inn side, staff members wear walkie-talkies. Dr. Schenck is looking into purchasing Bluetooth-enabled headsets for his team to further improve communication. “I saw this at a nearby practice, and it seemed to work great to keep everyone connected,” he says.
Building the large, well-run hospital he needed didn't come easy. And it certainly didn't break any records for speed. But Dr. Schenck says he couldn't be more pleased with the final result. “It truly was a labor of love,” he says. “I borrowed many ideas from other Hospital Design Competition winners, visited numerous hospitals and read every Veterinary Economics publication on hospital design. I owe a lot to the experts in the field, and am so happy with the hospital we've designed.”
A LOOK AT THE NUMBERS
Mueller Pet Medical Center
7625 Freeport Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95832
Owner: Ken Schenck, DVM
Associates: 6 full-time, 2 part-time
Hospital team: 51 full-time, 18 part-time
Practice style: 98 percent small animal, 2 percent pocket pets
Building size: 27,000 square feet
Parking spaces: 41 client, 20 staff
Construction: $3.8 million (building only)
Site improvement: $806,800
Professional fees: $754,500
Year built: 2012
1711 Baines Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95835
fax (916) 333-4881
901 Lamberton Place NE
Albuquerque, NM 87107
Click next for photos of Mueller Pet Medical Center.
This 16-foot monument sign straddles the berm, which was constructed as part of a ground water retaining system.
Upon entering Mueller Pet Medical Center, clients and pets are greeted by a large reception room with a curved, multi-level reception desk and colorful photos of patients decorating the walls.
North view of reception area
The use of curved features visually softens the space, as do seats of various sizes, heights, and materials.
A 43-foot tower lends an air of spaciousness and light to the reception area. Not only does it serve as a beacon for clients to find the facility in emergencies and at night, but it makes a grand statement upon entry. Around and to the left of the desk is the cat hallway, and to the right is the dog hallway.
The refreshment station holds freshly baked Otis Spunkmeyer cookies, coffee, tea and water. “We've served these cookies for nearly 15 years,” says Dr. Schenck. “Clients now stop by just for a cookie or a coffee, without even bringing their pets by. We're happy to have created a family-friendly atmosphere that makes them feel comfortable to do this.” Just beyond the refreshment station is the kids' nook.
In the kids' nook, children enjoy interactive toys, videos and a coloring station. Parents like the closed-circuit monitoring that allows them to monitor their children remotely from the exam room.
This is an example of a dog exam room at Mueller Pet Medical Center. Clients enter from the dog hallway through clouded glass doors. These lift tables are used in all dog rooms. The washing station features a hands-free sink and paper towel dispenser.
Cat exam rooms are accessed through the cat hallway on the other side of the building and instead feature countertop exam tables.
The comfort room functions much like a family room, with a comfortable couch and chair, countertops and cabinets, and a glass door leading to an enclosed patio. "We encourage clients to sit outside and think or reflect during difficult consultations, and they can leave the practice via this room, rather than needing to walk back through the reception area," says Dr. Schenck.
The combined center hallway and pharmacy allows staff members and doctors private entry to each of the eight exam rooms, the special procedures room and the hospital administrator's office. Staff members have access to five computer workstations, as well as direct access to the treatment room. Skylights and transoms over exam room doors often provide all the light needed in this area.
The pride and joy of Dr. Schenck's design is the center hub treatment room. All vital areas of the hospital are in or adjacent to this room. Three of the four towers are fitted with two wet tables each, and the fourth tower connects to a lift table and provides a gurney station. Oxygen, wet and dry suction, hot and cold water, a drain line and electrical wires all flow into the room via the concrete slab prior to the pour.
Along the north side of the treatment room is the doctor's office with 10 doctor stations and a digital radiography station. Glass windows look out over the three-stall nurse's station, treatment room and to the left, the ICU.
This is the dental suite, located in the east corner of the treatment room, in action.
Each surgery suite includes wall-mounted anesthetic machines, oxygen, nitrogen, wet and dry suction, digital X-ray viewing, plain film viewing and a surgical pass-through to the surgical prep room.
The Pet Inn reception area
The Pet Inn has its own entrance on the southeast side of the building, with an awning outside that gives it a different identity from the hospital itself. The reception area has a barrel ceiling, a curved reception desk and cat condos lining the west wall. A wood grain tile floor adds wamth. The area features a cookie and coffee station, as well as movable and comfortable seating.
This is the view from the cat lodging room through the cat condo to The Pet Inn reception desk. Cats and clients alike love the interaction; however shy cats can be placed in other more private rooms if necessary.
Each luxury suite is equipped with its own television and internet camera for remote viewing. The design goal for these rooms was to be quiet with minimal visual and audible distractions so boarded pets stay calm and relaxed.
This is one of three indoor arenas at Mueller. Each one has a poured epoxy floor making it easy on animals' paw pads, large playful wall mural, internet camera for remote viewing, 14-foot ceilings with sky lights and ceiling fans to increase air circulation. These areas connect to the outside arenas as well as the cage and run rooms.
This is one of five outdoor synthetic turf arenas where boarded pets enjoy group play activities. Sun screens and a power mister system make the area more pleasant for pets on hot days.