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Unity Center combines resources

April 24, 2018

The Unity Center for Behavioral Health in Portland, Oregon, aims to embody the concept of unity in more ways than one. Competitors have now become collaborators, the lines have blurred between public and private paying patients, and comfort is carefully balanced with safety in the new 110,000 square foot center that provides emergency psychiatric and inpatient services.

The 24-hour facility takes an innovative approach to behavioral and mental health by combining the psychiatric units and resources of four different health systems—Adventist Health, Legacy Health, Kaiser Permanente and Oregon Health and Science University—into one joint initiative to better meet the city’s needs.

Photo: Legacy Health

The building’s design, material choices and layout were methodically selected after feedback was gathered from large stakeholder meetings that brought together each health system, the center’s staff and patient advocates. The group focused on the concept of trauma-informed care.

“That’s really what drove our design,” says Chris Farentinos, MPH, vice president of Unity Center for Behavioral Health.

Photos: Legacy Health

The end result is a large facility with two separate units: a emergency psychiatric services unit that typically serves about 32 people each day and can keep patients for up to 23 hours in outpatient observation status; and a 107-bed inpatient unit including 22 beds for children and adolescents.

Farentinos describes the psychiatric emergency services area as an open therapeutic milieu lined with large windows that bring in natural light. The room is filled with comfortable recliners in bright colors, such as lime green and yellow, where patients can sit and relax. Interaction between staff and patients is encouraged by incorporating an open nurses station that makes the staff easily accessible without closed-off physical barriers. The area is also equipped with staff laptops so that nurses are able to bring the computers to the patient to do their charting more easily.

Photos: Corky Miller

The open nurses station also offers a clear line of sight of the space for nurses and other staff. Behind the station is a glass, charting station that serves as a secure location. Comfort was a key goal of the interior design, but designers carefully balanced their desire for patients to feel at ease with security.

“A lot of safety is about relationships. The more relational your nursing staff is with the patients, the safer the environment becomes,” Farentinos says.

Inpatient features

The balance between comfort and safety was continued in the inpatient portion of the center. Farentinos says an  important aspect of the design process was talking with patients who had stayed in inpatient centers about what features would make them feel more at ease in their rooms.

Using this feedback, the team created specially designed closets in each inpatient room that had cell phone charging stations and a secure area where patient belongings could be secured.

“Patients told us they wanted their cell phones, and they wanted their belongings close to them,” she says.

Another desired item was a clock, so Unity Center mounted digital clocks inside the closet that could be seen from the outside. They added color to each room by incorporating an accent wall and vinyl prints of landscapes.

 “We have a bench by the window in all of the rooms, which allow for visitors to sit down and visit,” Farentinos says.



Photos: John Valls

All behavioral health providers need to address ligature issues and consider the degree of risk related to the population served. At Unity Center, slanted bathroom doors were cut to an angle so the top of the door does not allow for ligature points, adding an extra level of safety in the rooms.

Each aspect of the building’s design was carefully considered, but the work doesn’t end there. Unity Center for Behavioral Health also has plans for an elaborate garden outside, complete with two walking paths, exercise bikes equipped for the outdoor elements and a basketball hoop. The garden is expected to open this summer.

Jill Sederstrom is a freelance writer based in Kansas.

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