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Setting the table for service

Publication
Article
dvm360dvm360 June 2020
Volume 51
Issue 6

Topnotch veterinary care deserves a topnotch facility to match.

“You know how you can walk into a restaurant and think, ‘ew, this place is gross,’ but then the service and the food are fantastic, so you keep coming back?” asks Jonathan Kaufman, DVM, owner of Eastern Animal Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. “That’s how my old facility was—not much to look at, but our doctor and staff care and service were great, so our clients kept returning.”

Precisely because client and staff care is so important, Dr. Kaufman knew his deserved a nicer facility. He had lived for eight years with the first practice he bought, then remodeled a shopping center site in 1998. Although he did the best he could on the remodel—completed with the help of architect Wayne Usiak of BDA Architecture—the space had its limitations.

“It was clear to me that we really couldn’t grow anymore in that small space,” says Dr. Kaufman. “Demand was high, and we had nowhere to go. We had up to eight doctors and about 50 people all working in a 5,000-square-foot building. We were still doing a great job, but we were stressed out in such a small space.”

Throughout this time, Dr. Kaufman had been talking to Usiak again about wanting to build a larger practice, this time designing from scratch. He was excited about the raw possibilities a new build would offer. When a two-acre lot of land became available, he jumped, knowing it was time to build the practice of his dreams.

“Back to the restaurant analogy, it’s like our building is the` table on which we serve our clients,” he says. “A larger, nicer ‘table’ would allow us to serve them in a much more enjoyable way.”

He built that table and earned Eastern Animal Hospital the title of runner-up in the 2020 dvm360 Hospital Design Competition. The 16,433-square-foot practice garnered praise from the Hospital Design Competition judges for its great traffic flow as well as a gorgeous lobby.

Go big or go home

Twenty years after his first remodeling experience, Dr. Kaufman said it was time to “go big or go home.” So big he went.

“My dream was to start with a raw piece of land and build an inspiring facility that would take our hospital into the future,” says Dr. Kaufman. “I wanted my staff members to have a building that was quiet and spacious with a clinical floor and an upper floor for administrative tasks, meetings and an eating area so they could get away from the intensity of clinical practice.”

Balcony sitting area

Dr. Kaufman wanted a place for staff members to be able escape the chaos of hospital life, so the hospital includes both an indoor staff room and an outdoor balcony with tables and chairs, bench seating and umbrellas to give staff a place of their own. The space also functions as a social gathering place for events.

First on the list was designing a lobby with a smooth flow that sets the stage for the rest of the practice. Gone are the days of big, cavernous waiting areas, he says. Instead, Dr. Kaufman chose a design that allows for greeting the client, then quickly transitioning them into an exam room, then back out a different door after the exam or treatment, with checkout in the exam room itself for privacy.

“Our emphasis was on the flow of the building, making a seamless transition from space to space and not making clients wait too long,” he says.

The centerpiece of the lobby is a 1,000-gallon cylindrical saltwater tank, something he has had in every practice since the beginning. This one, however, is much grander than before. He also chose partitioned seating surrounding the tank in an effort to reduce pet/client anxieties, including being able to separate dogs and cats. The room features plenty of charging ports, internet access, bench seating for both owners and pets, and a client concierge center with a custom grinding coffee station, water and fresh snacks.

saltwater fish tanks

A 1,000-gallon saltwater fish tank, stocked with carefully selected fish to entertain and calm clients and patients alike, is the centerpiece of the reception area. Divided seating areas surround the tank, with benches large enough for pets to sit with their owners. A small retail area sits nearby.

Once through the lobby, clients are taken into one of 14 exam rooms, a big upgrade from the previous six. Here, Dr. Kaufman invites clients to “linger at the table.”

“The idea behind not making clients wait too long in the lobby is like that of a restaurant: When you’re waiting for your table, you’re impatient, wondering what’s taking so long,” he says. “But once at your table, you want to slow down and take your time, with no pressure to clear the table for the next person. Having ample exam rooms allows us to slow down, not rush clients back out the door.”

exam room

Fourteen exam rooms allow for shorter wait times in the lobby, with clients and patients ushered quickly into exam rooms, where almost all hospital functions take place, including checkout. Movable seating, fold-down tables and screens for client education add to the rooms.

While the lobby and the gigantic fish tank are striking, Dr. Kaufman says the surgery suite is his favorite spot in the hospital. “The surgery room was designed with lots of windows, plenty of space, and glass looking out,” he says. “Surgery is what I love, and this space provides me with a very peaceful Zen feeling. It’s a beautiful room that lets me do my thing and do it well.”

surgery suite

The surgery suite is Dr. Kaufman’s favorite room in the hospital. The spacious room features large windows that allow natural light in. Two surgery tables and plenty of anesthesia machines fit easily into the space.

doggy daycare area

An indoor doggy daycare area features bold shades of orange with whimsical animal art lining the walls. This room has cushioned rubber flooring that provides texture to prevent slipping by staff and dogs, and opens to this outdoor play yard.

Building for beauty

While a large, flowing hospital with the latest and greatest equipment was at the top of Dr. Kaufman’s list, creating a strikingly beautiful building came next. With the help of the experts at BDA Architecture, he got what he wanted. A porte cochère offers clients a covered entryway to the building, making an instant statement upon arrival. Upon entry, clients are greeted with a rustic stacked stone wall behind reception, modern lighting and other high-end features.

Dr. Kaufman didn’t like seeing clients struggle to bring pets inside during inclement weather, so he included a porte cochère at the entrance to the hospital. Bold accents of orange and yellow mimic the colors in the logo.

Eastern Animal Hospital lobby

A stacked rustic stone backdrop with pops of orange welcomes guests to the hospital. An abundance of windows allow outside light in; drop pendant lights above a rounded reception desk complete the look.

private telephone room

Another important feature was a private telephone room in the back of the reception area to allow live client interactions in the lobby without the distraction of telephone calls. “It was very important to me to have a quiet facility—minimizing paging and ringing in the lobby, and allowing for 100% client engagement,” Dr. Kaufman says.

“It feels like you’re checking into a high-end hotel, not a veterinary practice,” he says. “All the finishes are durable and beautiful, making for a truly lovely experience. In the end, the two-plus years it took to design and build the new Eastern Animal Hospital allowed me to bring my dream vision to reality.”

Sarah A. Moser is a freelance writer in Lenexa, KS.

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