Fresh air on road to health
Nurse Unit Manager Luke Dix stands in the ICU outdoor patients' courtyard. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

This is hospital care of the future, where even seriously ill patients in intensive care can breathe fresh air, enjoy sunshine and watch birds fly overhead.

But for WA patients, it is the here and now.

In what is believed to be an Australian first, the intensive care unit and coronary care unit at the $2 billion Fiona Stanley Hospital in Murdoch have been built on the ground floor with open-air courtyards so patients can spend time outdoors without compromising their care.

The ICU pictured here has three comprehensive power boxes so patients can be "plugged in" and fully supported medically.

While a few hospitals in the country provide access to covered outdoor areas for patients, this is the first time designers have created a completely open air space for ICU patients.

It is part of a radically different hospital design, which brings the outdoors in, and encourages patients to step or be wheeled outside.

The 40-bed unit will start operating in November, a month after the hospital's four-phase opening gets under way.

The ICU will feature "smart glass" walls that can turn clear or opaque at the touch of a button, allowing for patient privacy or close monitoring.

And unlike traditional units located deep in the depths of the hospital with little or no natural light, every patient will have a view of the native parklands surrounding the hospital.

The hospital project recently won an award for sustainable architecture at WA Architecture Awards.

Jeff Menkens, principal of landscaping firm Hassell, which helped design the project, said the paths, gardens and courtyards were aimed at helping recovery.

The use of greenery, fragrant plants and natural sunlight was designed to be calming, particularly for mentally ill patients and those facing months of recovery from serious illness or injury such as rehabilitation patients.

"When designing the rehabilitation areas, we focused on real-life problems faced every day so we incorporated kerbs, unstable surfaces, and slopes and stairs," Mr Menkens said. "Discreet markers along the paths allow patients and therapists to measure recovery and set goals."

Outdoor rehabilitation areas have raised garden beds, a washing line and fruit trees to replicate the bending and stretching of hanging out washing and gardening.

Rooftop gardens with native plants are also dotted among the buildings and there are no fences to avoid the "island" mentality.

"It's also designed to improve the working environment, to give staff somewhere to go, and for families who might be stressed visiting relatives," Mr Menkens said. "It's fair to say the design of this hospital is like no other."

The West Australian

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