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Design Thought Leader

Designing Refuge: A Hospice Case Study

In part four of this series on hospice design, Ila Burdette of Perkins+Will illustrates how a thoughtful hospice design benefits patients, caregivers and families while also attracting community interaction.

Willson Hospice in Albany, Georgia illustrates the latest hospice design trends we have covered in the past three columns. The new 34,000-square-foot facility includes a 15,000-sf administrative component for 50 home care staff who travel each day to reach patients in the surrounding 11 counties, as well as educational and meeting space for volunteers and community groups. The residential component for 18 inpatients is organized into three households, each arranged around a family living room.

Getting the Inside Right

Floor plan of the Willson Hospice in Albany, GA. The residential component includes housing for 18 residents, divided into three households, each arranged around a family living room.

Inside the building, the design is shaped for its users. Patient rooms feature extensive stained wood trim at headwalls, ceilings and millwork. Headwalls disguise medical outlets and switches by tucking them into the sides. Patient controls (fans, shades, thermostats) are all included. Beds are moveable, rolling out onto porches. Family members appreciate window seat beds with built-in drawer storage underneath, individual reading lights and corner glazing.

The front lobby of the Willson Hospice

Willson’s selection of family spaces includes living rooms immediately outside patient rooms, each outfitted with a reading inglenook, millwork for children’s games, a dining area and conversation area. Each living room also has ready access onto two outdoor terraces protected by sunscreens. Other spaces designed especially for family include a kitchenette with banquette seating, a dedicated children’s playroom, a quiet room, sunroom and chapel. The major gathering rooms are high-ceilinged, with tall window walls and exposed glulam beams supporting pine planks above.

A Healthcare Building and a Wildlife Sanctuary

From its inception, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, the owner, intended Willson Hospice to not only to serve patients, but also to be an ecological oasis for its local community. The project’s success is evident in its designation as the only healthcare facility in the world recognized as a Certified Silver Audubon International Signature Sanctuary.

To best protect the site and its wetlands, the design team began by walking the property with a nationally known local ecologist who identified indigenous species and suggested building placement. They were able to preserve native atamasco lilies, dogwoods, pines and oaks. A one-mile walking trail loops the site perimeter, connecting the front courtyard, family gardens and outdoor chapel with boardwalks and a viewing platform at the bird sanctuary formed by a natural pond. The trail is signed with educational placards describing flora and fauna for bird-watchers and school children.

In order to be responsible stewards of the site, Willson Hospice restricted its building footprint and associated grading, and minimized site disturbance to only 14 acres. Its Natural Resource Management Plan includes measures to prevent erosion and storm water pollution, to conserve water and to enhance wildlife habitat.

An Open Invitation

Eagle Scouts building bluebird houses

The chance to visit Willson Hospice’s facility and site has dramatically increased interaction between the community and the health system, drawing a remarkable range of local groups to campus. The local Audubon Society holds chapter meetings and bird counts there; garden clubs and scout troops have contributed nature projects.

Other visitors include the American Chestnut Tree supporters, the Albany Rotary Club, the professional women’s club and the neighboring community college’s cross-country track team, which trains on the perimeter walk. Cancer support groups, local and state medical societies and the local Hospital Authority all convene there. Hospice has become a magnet for Albany’s special occasions, a place synonymous with beautiful surroundings.

Silver and Green

Willson Hospice is both a LEED Silver building and an Audubon International Silver Signature Sanctuary.  Its energy usage was reduced by 20.8%. Potable water usage was reduced by 21.9% by using ultra-low flow water closets, showers and faucets. More than 80% of spaces are daylit; more than 92% have outdoor views. Site design leaves 93.5% of acreage unspoiled as vegetated space for native fauna and flora.

Patient living rooms and terraces at evening


Roofs, driveways, dining nooks, thermostats, windowseats, rose beds and low-e glazing may not be the first tools hospice caregivers consider using to reach their worried clients. Paradoxically, however, the physical details of a particular place can be the most convincing evidence of the staff’s concern if the building does its job by extending their mission. A building and campus wordlessly and continually express welcome, reassurance, generosity of space and spirit. Hospice users often find we all need and appreciate the refuge of thoughtful design.

Ila Burdette AIA, LEED BD+C is a Principal with Perkins+Will where she leads the firm’s research and design of senior living projects, including hospices, continuing care retirement communities, assisted living, skilled nursing, and Alzheimer’s facilities. 



1 Comment

  1. Susan Hughes September 24, 2012 12:58 am

    Wow! My heart is touched by the many people who made this possible. May God bless this beautiful facility as a place of peace and rest.Report


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