Specializing in the "perfect practice"

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These specialists designed their facility to reflect the care they give, focusing on traffic flow, workflow, and the potential for expansion. Today, clients and employees of Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson know the facility supports their goals.

A Well-Thought-Out Floor Plan, natural lighting, and efficient setups can bolster team members' attitudes and work habits. On the flip side, a poorly designed facility—one with dim lighting, inefficient traffic flow, and uncomfortable work spaces—really hinders the quality of care and the attitude of those doing the caring. And the owners took that reality to heart when they designed Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson, a 2006 Veterinary Economics Hospital Design Competition Merit Award-winning practice.

"It's amazing how much your environment influences your mindset," says co-owner Dr. Barbara Gores, Dipl. ACVS. "We wanted a facility that was a happy place for our team to work and enjoy each other."

Co-owner Dr. James Boulay, Dipl. ACVS, had a dream for this facility: "We've always envisioned a group of very talented specialists, each with a little pocket of knowledge, coming together in a modern, contemporary, and fun building," he says. "In our heads and hearts, we've planned this facility for years, taking the best we've seen around the country and piecing it together to make our perfect practice."

Thinking through the floor plan

Specialty and emergency/critical care require a different sort of floor plan. That's where friends at the Veterinary Specialty Practice Alliance, an association that comprises 18 large, multi-specialty practices around the country, came in handy. "Through this alliance, we looked at many hospital designs," says Dr. Gores.

Doctors' office: The doctors enjoy meeting or just taking a break from the bustle of practice life in this shared office. It's spacious and affords great views from a second-story wrap-around window and outside balcony.

Competition judges lauded the Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson for an innovative, modern exterior, and for an "excellent, well-thought-out" floor plan. To get ideas for this efficient floor plan, the doctors mentally "walked" the design, many times over, from the view of the client and pet, staff member, and doctor.

"I wanted to make the hospital experience easy on clients and staff members," says Dr. Gores. "To improve patient flow and communication, and control noise, we needed to design a clear traffic pattern. It's easy to overlook this step, but a poorly contrived floor plan wastes a lot of energy. If your practice is patient-focused, as is ours, then it's important to move through your design as a patient would to create the most efficient flow. This approach benefits your patients and helps your staff members make the best use of their time and effort."

What this experience netted Drs. Gores and Boulay is a plan that revolves around the ICU, the hospital core, where all the specialties combine their strengths. Each specialty department has a separate work area that feeds directly into ICU, allowing easy access to special diagnostics. And the design facilitates future expansions by allowing any area to expand independently, if needed.

More than a box

The floor plan and traffic flow of a veterinary hospital fit well in a box-like building. But the outside of this kind of structure can be boring. This practice, however, is anything but square.

Built with a two-story curved roof mass, which covers the public spaces and surgery areas of the practice, the exterior gives the building a strong presence in a region otherwise known for flat-roofed adobe buildings common in the Southwest. "We feel that our hospital should reflect our state-of-the-art care. We wanted a modern, open, contemporary design that stands out from the typical Tucson architecture," Dr. Gores says.

The doctors also wanted to take advantage of one of Tucson's best features: sunlight. Glass walls all around the building supply natural light and great mountain views. To combat the Arizona heat, they used angled walls and beams that act as sunshades and add architectural interest.

"We chose William Paul Stamm, our architect, for his unique style," says Dr. Boulay. "And he brought his trademark contemporary building design to our building, inside and out." Stamm included second-floor balconies, which add to the architectural design and provide a practical use. "We might not be able to get out for a walk," says Dr. Boulay, "but if we can step out on the balcony and enjoy the environment, we fulfill one of our core values of balancing our lives. If we're more balanced, we do a better job in our profession. And with our spectacular sunsets, it's not uncommon for us to stop rounds and go out as a group to breathe in the sunset together before tackling our next case."

Don't go it alone

Plan to expand

"We knew from the start we were going to build the hospital so it could expand in any direction," says Dr. Gores. "We thought, 'What if one specialty suddenly grows three times faster than another, or we need to add another specialty? Or what if we need to enlarge the ICU? Expandability was incorporated into the design so we'd never get trapped again."

The team designed a central ICU, with specialties surrounding the ICU like spokes and they chose a site with adjacent land and an extra acre. They could expand any specialty area—or add one—without much interruption of the rest of the building. And it's a good thing they planned ahead, because just one year out, they're getting ready to build again.

"We've already met with the architect to build on an additional 8,000 square feet," says Dr. Boulay. They plan to build in a U-shape around the back of the hospital, adding more areas for central supply; ICU; surgery; dentistry; and radiology, a new specialty.

"The hospital is growing so fast," says Dr. Boulay. "Sometimes I stand in the parking lot and see 40 cars there, and I think about how I'm responsible for all of these people's livelihoods. It's scary, but exciting to think that we're all so interdependent on each other. You can build a great building, but it's not the building that makes the practice, it's the people."

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