Location: Westin, WV
Project Area: 33,000 ft2
Services: Architecture, Planning
De-institutionalizing behavioral health facilities can come with plenty of obstacles regarding the treatment and care of criminal (forensic) populations. IKM architects faced these challenges while providing professional planning and design services for a 50-bed addition to the State of West Virginia’s Behavioral Health Facility in Weston, WV. The 33,000 S.F. addition to the William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital serves as the primary forensic wing for the facility. The new addition is designed to handle the admission and care of the majority of the forensic population in the facility in order to segregate violent from civil populations..
To combat these issues, two approaches were established early in design, with the first focusing on the attending staff.
As forensic patients can be prone to violence, suicide, and also be elopement risks, most of the patients are required to spend the majority of their time in the unit. The nurses’ station becomes the focal point of the unit, with all other spaces able to be viewed from this location. A secure area for staff was noted as a critical area for staff to feel safe and reduce anxiety, so a space was also designed to serve as an off-limits-to-patients area that supports and provides backup to the nurses’ station.
The second design approach introduces an exterior “room” into the units. Enclosed courtyards, which allow patients to move freely from the interior to the exterior, can become part of the therapeutic process for individuals. The design team chose an approach that would allow this freedom while maintaining visual control from the nurses’ station. This integration also allows natural light to enter the core of the nursing unit, helping to promote more vital connections to the outdoors.
A layout was created that positions programming functions around these two overarching design concepts, with the nurses’ station at the hub of the circulation spaces. Taking a typical double-loaded corridor scheme and splaying the corridor into two, two single-loaded corridors allows for the insertion of social program space and the exterior courtyard. This position promotes the visual control of all the common spaces within the unit. A shared dining room is also located to allow for a large glazed area that overlooks wilderness beyond the site.
Overall, evidence-based research was used to create a foundation for creative exploration. These challenges created opportunities for design that incorporate safety and enhancement of a humane delivery of behavioral care.