Clad in white marble, Tacoma’s newest medical edifice — the new Franciscan Medical Building at St. Joseph Medical Center — could easily be mistaken for a sleek corporate office.
Indeed, with its dramatic artwork, stainless steel elevators, video information boards, soothing background music and $90 million price tag, the building and its companion 818-car parking garage is the latest manifestation of the increasing role of the medical industry is asserting in Tacoma’s business community.
Franciscan Health System, with headquarters in Tacoma, last year was Pierce County’s second-largest private employer. It’s 5,709 Pierce County-employee work force was exceeded only by its Tacoma rival, MultiCare Health System.
Franciscan owns St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Anthony, St. Clare, St. Elizabeth and St. Francis hospitals. It is exploring alliances with Bremerton’s Harrison Medical Center and Burien’s Highline Medical Center.
The two-building complex at St. Joseph is the largest commercial building project completed in Tacoma this year. The structure at 1608 S. J St. was jointly developed by Tacoma-based Franciscan Health System and Frauenshuh HealthCare Real Estate Solutions.
The office building is the third collaboration between Franciscan and Frauenshuh. The two worked together on buildings at Franciscan’s St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor and St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood.
The 120,000-square-foot building, two years under construction, is opening in phases. The first medical offices opened in the building last month. Three of its five stories are now occupied with medical offices. The last two stories will be open for business by late summer.
The building was constructed both for the benefit of Franciscan patients and its health care providers, said Stacey Zierath, Franciscan Medical Group’s regional director of operations.
CONSOLIDATION AND PATIENT CONSULTATION WITH DESIGN
The structure allows the medical group, which has bought up many private medical practices, to consolidate operations on the St. Joseph campus from buildings spread throughout the Tacoma area.
The building, for instance, has allowed Franciscan to bring together many related women’s medical functions such as maternal and fetal care, gynecology, urology and pediatrics.
The location allows patients to be referred to nearby medical services housed in the St. Joseph complex and connected to the new structure by skybridges across South J Street.
The proximity of the medical center itself gives doctors quick access to patients who are hospitalized or undergoing outpatient procedures nearby without ever getting into their cars.
Before the building was designed, Franciscan consulted both its patients and its medical providers about what improvements they wanted in a medical office building.
The result incorporates the latest in medical thought and technology, said Jessica Salzman, regional administrator to Franciscan at St. Joseph.
The new building is notable both for new features that have been added to make life easier for medical professionals and patients and for those features that have been hidden for the same reason.
If there is a dominant theme to the building’s interior design, it is cool serenity. Colors are calming greens, blues and neutral white.
When patients move from each floor’s lobby on the building’s south end toward patient treatment areas, the lights are dimmer and the colors more pastoral compared with the sun-filled lobbies.
And the medical system has deliberately designed the building to hide from patients’ view the busy clerical and office functions that could introduce a hectic vibe to the structure’s interior.
Each floor is designed similarly with a series of wide, parallel hallways lettered A through E leading away from the main corridor on the structure’s west side.
On each side of those hallways are a series of examination rooms accessed through sliding doors and designated sequentially as they move away from the central corridor — for instance, A1, A2, A3 and so forth.
That logical arrangement and abundance of rooms allows the medical system to assign each patient an examination room shortly after arrival. Patients are given a large card with a room designation of the card, E4, for instance, so that they can guide themselves to the correct room. That “self rooming” concept saves staff time escorting patients to their rooms and eliminates the need for large waiting and reception areas, making more practical use of the building’s floor space.
Zierath said the health system had considered eliminating waiting rooms but relented because patients’ relatives and friends oftentimes need an area to relax while patients are being examined.
Much like a cruise ship, where staff and mechanical areas are invisible to guests, customers at the new building likely will never see the work areas where staff members congregate and do their paperwork. They will interact with them most frequently in the ample-sized exam rooms.
Between the rows of those examination rooms and hidden from public view by solid walls and passcard-protected doors sits the staff areas for doctors, nurses, technicians and clerical personnel. Doctors and nurses access the patient examination rooms through doors on the opposite side of those rooms from the patient access doors. The staff areas are illuminated from the east by a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows.
Inside the staff areas, doctors have office cubicles made private by sliding doors.
Technology is abundant. Late this summer, the health system will go live with a comprehensive computer record-keeping and communications system called Epic that will provide seamless aggregation of patient records into a systemwide network.
Desks for nurses and technicians are instantly adjustable for height by motorized lifts. Urine samples are passed through ports from restrooms directly into the central technical area without anyone having to carry those samples through the halls.
Patient hallways, which in conventional medical buildings have become populated with technical paraphernalia, are uncluttered.
The scales that typically reside in the internal hallways of doctors’ offices have disappeared at St. Joseph’s new building. Likewise so have the hard examination tables inside the individual examination rooms.
Replacing both in Franciscan’s new building are lounge chair-like, electrically adjustable examination tables. Those tables can be lowered toward the floor to allow easy access for those in wheelchairs or with mobility issues. The head and feet of those tables can be individually adjusted to allow the patient to lie flat or sit upright.
The slickest feature, said Zierath, is the table’s ability to stealthily weigh the patient and to calculate body mass index. Those figures will be transferred automatically to medical records once the Epic system is in operation.
Some of the rooms feature large flat screens mounted on extendable, flexible mounts. The video results from various medical tests such as sonograms are then easily visible to patients.
Outside, the building was designed both to complement the existing St. Joseph campus but also the surrounding neighborhood, said Zierath.
A 300-foot-long mural decorated with the visages of Hilltop and Tacoma civic and business leaders girds the lower floor of the garage on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way side of the structure.
“We value the community of which we are a part,” said Zierath. “We want to celebrate their achievements.”John Gillie: 253-597-8663 firstname.lastname@example.org