2018 Specialty Hospital of the Year: Bite-sized tips from a big practice

March 1, 2018
Ashley Griffin

Ashley Griffin is a freelance writer based in Kansas City and a former content specialist for dvm360.

Does the idea of a general practice with specialty referral and 24/7 emergency services all under one veterinary hospital roof make your head spin? Its just another day at the office for the nearly 200 employees of Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, our 2018 dvm360 Hospital Design Competition Specialty Hospital of the Year. Learn any-size-hospital tips from a XXXL-sized one.

(Northwest exterior) Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, the 2018 Specialty Hospital of the Year (All photos by Tim Murphy, Murphy Foto Imagery.)

If you didn't know better, you might think this 37,819-square-foot, facility was designed to treat people-not pets.

“We set our bar pretty high,” says Donald Ostwald, DVM, DABVP. “The expectation was that it would look better than a human hospital.”

2018 Specialty Hospital of the Year

Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital by Ethos

Wheat Ridge, Colorado

By the Numbers

Owners: Drs. Donald Ostwald, Lenny Jonas and Lori Wise; Marianne Mallonee, CVPM

Number of doctors: 55

Exam rooms: 27

Total cost: $16,455,073

Cost per square foot: $333.01

Square footage: 37,819       

Structure type: Addition, renovation

Architect: Brad Haswell, Studio DH Architecture

Secondary architect: Tony Cochrane, Animal Arts

Well, mission accomplished! Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital, part of Ethos Veterinary Health, in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, took home the 2018 dvm360 Hospital Design Competition's Specialty Hospital of the Year award. (The General Practice Hospital of the Year will be featured in April.) The judges praised this AAHA-accredited hospital for efficiently mixing general practice, specialty referral cases and 24/7 emergency services all under one-massive-roof.

In the pages that follow, Dr. Ostwald, one of Wheat Ridge's 10 building owners, provides tips you can take home to your hospital, no matter the size ...

(South exterior) Three in one: It took the Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital team two-and-half years to find the perfect site. Well, actually three sites were combined to make this project feasible: The team tripled the size of their hospital to make room for their general practice, specialty and 24/7 emergency care. The separate, neon-lit emergency entrance features a circular drive for patient drop-off and pickup for client convenience.


(North exterior)

1. It's not always love at first site

Dr. Ostwald says the biggest challenge with building the two-story practice was finding the perfect location. There weren't a lot of options in the city, especially when the team needed a lot big enough to triple the square footage of their current practice.

“We are, and have been, Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital for more than 60 years now,” Dr. Ostwald says. “To be true to our roots, we wanted to stay in Wheat Ridge, a suburb of Denver, and Wheat Ridge is not a big community.”

It took the team two-and-a-half years and little bit of luck to finally land a suitable site. The good news? It was nine blocks from their current practice. The bad? It still wasn't big enough.

“The adjacent lot wasn't for sale, but we just asked the landlord if he would sell it and, lo and behold, he said, ‘Yeah, I've been thinking about selling it anyway,'” Dr. Ostwald says.

Further proof that it never hurts to ask!

Pro tip

Civic pride: If you want the city on your side, choose a location that needs to be revitalized. The team at Wheat Ridge even received an award for reinvesting back into the city.  

(Lobby) We'll be right with you! Look up and you'll notice floor-to-ceiling windows that let the natural light shine in. Look down and you'll see highly durable, low-maintenance polished concrete floors. Four-seat beam seating is available for clients with a window view into rehab.





(Exam room) Wall of fame: Love the pet photos in the exam rooms? Sorry, you'll have to shoot your own because these originals aren't for sale. "I've had quite a few clients reach out to me and say, 'Where did you get the photos?' Many of the photos are of staff members' own pets," Melissa Flygare, Wheat Ridge marketing coordinator says. "The art is special to our clients even though they don't know the pets in the photos." And with 27 exam rooms, that's a lot of wall space to fill! Add a collapsible exam table, wall-mounted computer monitor and treat jar, and you've got an award-winning exam room.


2. Who wants a say? (Trick question-everybody wants a say)

Attack your project from every angle at the HospitalDesign360 conference

Attend the 2018 HospitalDesign360 conference (formerly Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Conference) in Kansas City, Missouri, Aug. 15-17.

Gather ideas, learn from the profession's most noted veterinary design experts, and compare your options for design, construction, equipment, financing and more with our exclusive hospital design exhibit hall. Visit fetchdvm360.com/hd for more information.

Bonus! Practice owners from both of this year's Hospitals of the Year will be on hand to share their secrets.

“What are the must-haves?”

“What are the nice-to-haves?”

“What's on your equipment wish list?”

Dr. Ostwald and his architect asked representatives from each department at the hospital these three questions at the beginning of the planning process and incorporated as much feedback as they could into the new hospital.

“Twelve weeks prior to moving, we took staff members over to the construction site and showed them their areas of the building so they could start developing new work flows,” Dr. Ostwald says. “I think because we involved them in that process, it made it a little easier on day one.”

Pro tip

Morale: Consider forming a “Fun Committee” to boost morale during the hospital transition process. What's a fun committee? It's a group of “fun-minded” individuals who plan activities, like happy hours and bowling, for the entire staff, Dr. Ostwald says.

(Large-dog, low-stress exam room) Rise to the occasion: This exam room is specially designed for large or fearful pets. The scissor exam table helps ease patients into the veterinary exam. (A treat jar doesn't hurt, either!)



(Surgery) Room with a view: Look at those mountains! The judges loved the large windows in this surgery suite allowing natural lighting for surgical procedures. This is one of the Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital's seven surgery suites, and it comes with a mountain view. (Editor's note: This photo is staged and does not reflect the surgery standards or practices of the hospital.)


3. Go with the flow-and design accordingly

Want more dvm360 Hospital Design Competition content?

Click here for a list of winners of this year's competition and a schedule of when to keep an eye out for them to be featured in print and on dvm360.com.

Click here for the 2018 People's Choice Award competition and images of all 16 of this year's entrants. 

Keep your eyes open for the 2018 Hospital Design Supplement arriving in June with your issue of dvm360 magazine for even more great design content.

When it came to adding a second floor to the new hospital, the Wheat Ridge team had a strategy.

“We didn't want the outpatients intermingling with the hospitalized patients or vice versa,” Dr. Ostwald says. “So our design keeps outpatients on the first floor and hospitalized patients on the second floor.”

Wheat Ridge's ICU is conveniently connected to the hospital's surgery suite on the second floor, creating easy access for severe cases that need post-operative care. And a centralized imaging center, located at the bottom of the stairs, makes it convenient for any animal that needs an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI.

Pro tip

Delegation: “I know the challenges [veterinarians] have running a practice, and to think you can take on building a new hospital by yourself is foolish,” Dr. Ostwald says. “Develop a strong support team to help you get the job done.”

(ICU and critical care)

For more pictures of this award-winning hospital, turn the page …




(Patient relief yard) We got it covered: The best part of the patient relief yard? It's covered! Complete with K9 Grass, an artificial turf made just for pets, installed over a draining sand filter base, the yard is strategically located under the second floor toward the front of Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital. "As clients come and go they walk by the patient exercise yard. Clients can see that whether it's snowing, raining or sunny, our staff is diligently with our patients," says Dr. Ostwald. "Hopefully, we're bringing some of the mystery of the back to the front so people understand what we do."

(Long-term waiting) A comfortable stay: With a 24/7 emergency clinic plus specialty services, Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital needed a welcoming and functional long-term reception area. Hospital Design Competition judges say they nailed it. "We wanted to make the waiting area comfortable. Many clients come from the mountains and stay all day," says Flygare.




(Pack and prep)

(Surgery) Pass it on: The all-glass, pass-through cabinet allows for easy access between surgery suites.



(Rehab) Back up and running in no time: "We wanted to put sports medicine right up front so clients in the waiting room can watch agility therapy and patients on the underwater treadmill," says Flygare. The large rehab room includes a folding division wall to separate the wet and dry areas.




(Outpatient treatment) 1st floor facts: The first-floor outpatient treatment room features durable flooring that coves up the wall to ensure sanitary and easy clean up. Light fixtures are mounted to a green ceiling base, giving the room a pop of color. A wall-mounted flat-screen TV makes treatment "show and tell" a breeze.

(Consult room) Feeling gray (in a good way): Comfort is key for clients and patients in this hospital's consult room. Clients can take a seat on the three-seat sofa or one of the matching armchairs, while their pet plops on the plush mat for a floor exam.




(Parking lot) A space of one's own: "This site sat back farther from the road than our old hospital, but as luck would have it we were able to buy the adjacent lot that gave us the added exposure and parking that we needed," says Dr. Ostwald. To the delight of their neighbors, the hospital now has ample client and staff parking for the nearly 200 employees on the team.



(Reception) Form and function: The island-style reception area features check-in and checkout stations complete with privacy barriers, leash hooks and cylinder glass lighting. The porcelain wall tile backdrop, frosted glass signage and quartz resin countertops follow the theme of the new hospital: sleek and functional.




(Staff lounge) Movin' on up: In addition to a break room, Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital has a two-story staff atrium lounge located just inside the staff entrance. Complete with high-top tables, lounge chairs and couches, this staff-only space is southeast facing so it gets plenty of sunlight. "We wanted areas for the staff to unwind and relax from the day-to-day stresses and tensions of the job," Dr. Ostwald says. The staircase conveniently leads to the staff offices.

(Staff lounge)




(Dog ward) In the doghouse: Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital sports 173 runs. In the main dog ward, the glass windows strategically face the hospital's charting area so staff members can keep a close eye on canine patients ... and vice versa!


(Pharmacy) Caring about cabinets: Showing off elegant inventory control, Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital's central pharmacy is conveniently located off the client waiting area. Hospital Design Competition judges praised the team's use of cabinet space and automated inventory cabinets.

Ashley Griffin is a freelance writer based in Kansas City and a former content specialist for dvm360.