The tidy veterinary hospital: Part 2Storage that sings

June 3, 2019
Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB
Heather E. Lewis, AIA, NCARB

Heather Lewis, AIA, NCARB, is a partner at Animal Arts, an architecture firm in Boulder, Colorado and frequent HospitalDesign360 conference speaker. She's a lighting geek and a (seriously) devoted advocate of minimizing pets' stress and anxiety during their veterinary visits. She has designed practices and shelters that range in size from 1,200 square feet to 110,000 square feet. During grad school (as a break from architorture) she trained miniature horses to pull carts!

Every house, and every veterinary hospital, accumulates too much stuff. Join me as I offer the best tips Ive seen practice team members put in place to store things where everyone can find them and get rid of the things you dont need.

Africa Studio/stock.adobe.com

In the first half of this two-part series, I laid out the reasons why you need to tidy up your veterinary hospital (it's not just for neat freaks) and the first few steps to cleaning up clutter. This time, I get down into the details of how all that work can help you reimagine and redesign both staff and client areas all over your veterinary practice.

What is minimalism?

Minimalism and tidying up are part of a new wave of productivity, well-being and efficiency writing that aims to help us get things done and feel better doing it by clearing our spaces the way some things clear our mind. Here are a few books and articles that inspired me and might do the same for you:

“The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter” by Emilie Le Beau Lucchesi in The New York Times

• Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki

• Everything That Remains: A Memoir by the Minimalists by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

• “What Is Minimalism?” by Ryan Nicodemus

You've decluttered the space? Now rethink how you use it

Finally, after all that decluttering, you'll have a space worth rethinking. It may not be a blank slate, exactly, but at least you won't be moving things from one place to another as you make some necessary updates. While minimalism in veterinary medicine isn't a thing (and maybe it can't be due to the number of things you do every day), my team has worked with many veterinarians who maintain a serene, peaceful and clutter-free vision for their hospitals, from which they design and build.

I'm going to share with you my favorite clutter-free hospital tips:

Hang items, if possible, to keep the floor clear. If the item can be hung from above (such as a light fixture, an oxygen drop or an IV bag), then do it. The floor will remain less cluttered, there will be fewer items to roll into storage, and everything will be more cleanable.

Design for convenient storage. There isn't a practice built that feels it has enough storage. But as I've outlined already, so much of what's stored doesn't need to be stored or is stored all over the place because the hospital is disorganized. One mantra to preventing this problem is to keep storage convenient. Follow these simple storage tips:

> Use reachable upper cabinets, rather than lower cabinets, for primary storage. No one likes to bend over 200 times per day to get things. If you use lower cabinets, use drawers rather than doors, for convenience and easy reach. (When I visit hospitals, I peek into lower cabinet space and often find that it is poorly used.) Alternately, consider crash carts for storage, as you can move them to where you need them.

> Keep pharmaceuticals dust-free and organized with glass cabinets (people tend to be sloppier about items that are stored behind opaque cabinet doors).

> Label what's in each cabinet. That way everything has a logical place.

> Set up each cabinet at each exam room and treatment station the same. This is called “same-handed” design in human hospitals, and it helps, for instance, a medical assistant know where the gauze is in every similar patient's exam room.

> Designate a single storage room for staging, rather than a bunch of small rooms. If you can't do this, at least store the entire stock of the same category of item in one space. (For example, all stored food goes in the food closet.) That way you can see at a glance if stock of any one item is getting low.

Keep inaccessible areas empty. Otherwise, they fill up with junk no one wants to deal with.

> Stop storing items in absurd locations. That means in exam room benches where Ms. Smith has to be evicted from her seat to get to something, in spidery crawl spaces or hard-to-access attics, or high up on a wall in your storage room where employees need ladders to access supplies. Keep these inaccessible areas empty; otherwise they fill up with junk no one wants to deal with. If you have no choice but to use odd storage solutions due to your hospital's size or layout-and you truly need the items being stored-use this storage for once-a-year items such as holiday decorations. Bonus tip: While you're at it, ensure you've purged your tacky holiday items and reduced them to only tasteful essentials.

Don't give in to the desire to fill every space. It will be harder to know what you have, and your hospital will be cluttered again in no time. According to Fumio Sasaki, part of minimalism is accepting and leaving unused space empty.

Now, what about client areas, exam rooms and storage around housing?

 

Exam rooms: Minimal storage and clutter

While brochures are useful, keep them minimal and organized. Use slim, wall-mounted TVs or tablets for client education, rather than cluttering up the counters with paper. Ultimately, your clients want your attention and advice more than a brochure, and you can provide appropriate paper information as part of a personalized packet prepared just for them.

Photo courtesy of Anne Willette Photography

Client areas: No storage

Client areas make your hospital's first impression. One major detractor is using this area for storage. For example, a small display of prescription foods will suffice rather than keeping your entire food stock out in the open.

The same goes for files. If you can't go paperless yet (and you should), at least store files out of sight of your clients.

Also, don't store anything on top of your reception area surfaces either. Imagine a client transaction counter with only a live orchid and a bowl of treats for pets.

Client areas: Stop screaming at pet owners

One of the things I like best about veterinary medicine is the freedom veterinarians have to design their own spaces around their style of practice and personal style as well. But not everyone has the time or expertise to coordinate a color and art scheme, for example, and once-fashionable hospital interior design can fall out of fashion.

When pulling together a successful veterinary interior design, remember that less is more. Featuring the work of just one artist can be enough for your lobby. You can also keep your furnishings and colors (mostly) neutral and use pops of color sparingly to brighten the space. This approach is soothing to the eye and always looks more professional than too many competing colors and patterns.

Photo courtesy of Tim Murphy, Murphy Foto Imagery.

Break room: You need space to relax

The workspace is for doing work and doing it well, but employees also need to have a place to relax. A well-designed, shared break space can be enthusiastically cluttered with birthday cakes, holiday décor, printed comics and memes, and employee recognition boards.

At our architectural firm, the break room is the center of activity, and coffee is king. We keep a dark, medium and light roast on hand and two types of coffee makers to make just the right, personalized cup of coffee. We also have a big table for lunches and socializing.

It's important to remember that the tight, organized and minimalist workspace out there can be a high-pressure environment, and people need this space to be their unabashed, messy selves.

Animal housing: Go high

Store patient-related items in cabinets above housing. This is one of my favorite storage tricks. The combination of cubbies and closed cabinets works for most patient storage needs, keeps the floor clear and prevents the unattractive pile of stuff that otherwise ends up on top of cages.

Photo courtesy of Tim Murphy, Murphy Foto Imagery.

‘We tend to give too much meaning to our things'

As we purge unnecessary possessions at home and in the workplace, what remains is something much more meaningful. I've always thought of a veterinary hospital as a shell built around the critical and life-changing relationships of people, their beloved pets and the dedicated professionals who help them ensure a long and happy life together. When we think of care this way, the hospital's job is to be a backdrop for these beautiful relationships, rather than the thing itself that vies for attention.

As we purge unnecessary possessions at home and in the workplace, what remains is something much more meaningful.

Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus say it best in their book: “Today's problem seems to be the meaning we assign to our stuff: We tend to give too much meaning to our things, often forsaking our health, our relationships, our passions, our personal growth and our desire to contribute beyond ourselves.”

I challenge you to redefine your own professional self by focusing on your personal values and the lives you support. Your tools shouldn't burden you, nor should your disorganized place slow you down. It's time to let go of all those items that aren't important. It's time to create the place that encourages and supports your best work.  

Heather Lewis, AIA, NCARB, is a partner at Animal Arts, an architecture firm in Boulder, Colorado and frequent HospitalDesign360 Conference speaker. She's a lighting geek and a (seriously) devoted advocate of minimizing pets' stress and anxiety during their veterinary visits.