One of the largest market segments in the nation, the healthcare industry looks to continue its growth trend, in size and sophistication. In turn, this is spurring developments in furniture design, as an aid to effective and quality care.

Influencing the design is an increased need for flexibility and function within the healthcare environment, which is driving furniture’s format toward modularity, says Mary Juhlin, Category Product Manager at Nurture by Steelcase.

“We’re seeing increased demand for modular over stationary millwork, especially in large healthcare systems” where there is increased emphasis on shifting floorplans and functions, Juhlin says.

According to information supplied by Steelcase, modular furniture offers a number of advantages over stationary millwork, including “performance, process, purpose and price.” The company, which manufactures both types of furnishings, notes that with modular components, “changes can be addressed before, during and even after installation. Interchangeable components better accommodate changing ergonomic needs and replacement parts offer the same materials and quality, so any changes or updates are seamless.”

The popularity of modular furniture also is being spurred by the increased usage of technology in the healthcare environment. “Technology is driving a fair amount of change, especially when you add in people bringing their own electronics (to the hospital),” Juhlin adds.

The role and impact of the furnishings and space layout within the healthcare environment has been studied extensively by researchers at Nurture by Steelcase, particularly as they relate to the interaction between the patient and healthcare provider, and patient with family/friends. Recent studies have focused on oncology and acute care units as well as the public/lounge areas, patient rooms and central nurses stations. Nurture also participated in a 2007 Mayo Clinic study that examined the effect a consultation room can have on the relationship between the patient and doctor/practitioner.

The results of the research have had a dual effect. Not only have they been instrumental in influencing the healthcare environment, and improving workflow and interaction, but they also have helped spur Nurture’s design and development of its casegoods products to meet the identified requirements, Juhlin says.

Modular Furniture Developments

Because healthcare furniture is essentially in use 24/7, it has to be “more robust” than standard contract furniture, Juhlin explains. There are also requirements with regards to the cleanability of the product and its surfaces for infection control.

The durability, cleanability and sustainability of healthcare furniture are also addressed in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Healthcare, available for new and renovated facilities.

According to the company, Nurture’s furniture is made from environmentally friendly materials and the products can contribute toward LEED credits. The modular furniture features a wood-based core, typically with a melamine or high pressure overlay, depending on the product and usage. Juhlin adds that all the edgebanding is fused tightly to the edges, eliminating any exposed core or seams where water or germs can harbor. Rigid thermofoil doors are also used in some products.

While the machining process is similar to that of stationary millwork, the “engineering and physics” of the design can be more critical, especially when putting together a run of connecting modular components. As Juhlin explains, because the furniture is not attached to the floor or wall, the modular pieces must have their own center of balance for stability.

Nurture’s modular casegoods lines include Folio, Opus and Sonata. The Folio line of products includes flexible shelving and storage configurations for exam rooms, lab environments, caregiver stations and other healthcare areas, with modifications that can be made in the field. Available in solid colors or woodgrains, the cabinets come standard with a Euro hinge that opens doors 110 degrees. An optional five-knuckle hinge allows doors to open up to 270 degrees.

A NeoCon 2006 Gold winner for Healthcare Furniture, the Opus line of freestanding casegoods includes storage, seating, desks, displays and even a sink unit — which can be combined in multiple configurations within a patient’s room. Opus also can be used in other areas, such as consultation, hospitality and exam rooms. The Opus Overbed Table won gold at NeoCon 2007, also in the Healthcare Furniture category.

And at NeoCon 2008, it was Sonata’s turn for gold in the Healthcare Furniture division. Focusing on the oncology clinic environment, the company says Sonata’s casegoods create a comfortable space for the cancer patient during treatment, while also providing access to supplies and technology. Sonata’s modular components feature a laminate cabinet body and a laminate, rigid thermoform or solid surface top. Pulls are flush to the base for ease of movement around the units. The Sonata line also includes: nurse server, island, media unit, bench and wardrobe.

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