Work began this week on the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System's new $26 million mental health center, following a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday at the Palo Alto VA campus.
The center is the first of several projects outlined in a $750 million, five-year reconstruction of the Palo Alto VA.
Designs for the mental health center emphasize creating a healing environment through use of natural lighting, landscaping and other "therapeutic" design elements, officials said Wednesday.
"This groundbreaking is groundbreaking in terms of what is going to be built here," U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo said. "When they enter the doors, everything there will be about healing them."
Patients will have views of landscaped areas from their bedrooms, and there will be convenient access to outdoor spaces. Such features are an effort to respond to patients' needs for comfort, according to Christine Coffin, senior architect/planner at The Design Partnership, which developed the design in consultation with clinicians.
The center will consolidate all Palo Alto VA inpatient mental-health beds, which are currently housed in three separate locations on two campuses, said Kerri Childress, director of communications for Palo Alto VA.
The center will replace one of the most seismically unstable buildings in the VA system, according to Childress. During the estimated two-year construction, the old building will remain operational. Following completion, the building will be razed and replaced with parking.
Other projects in the Palo Alto VA reconstruction include a new ambulatory-care center, polytrauma and blind rehabilitation center, and aquatic therapy and gym facilities.
The 80-bed mental-health center will be divided into four 20-bed units and includes public and private spaces. The center will feature both private and semi-private rooms, all with private bathrooms. The single-floor structure has 76,000 square feet of interior space.
"It was important to make it a single-story structure because of the patient population," Jason Nietupski, facilities manager for the Palo Alto VA, said. By utilizing the one-story design, all patients will have immediate access to outdoor spaces and courtrooms from the interior.
"What we're (also) looking for is a way to turn the building into a better tool for the staff," Coffin said. The design "makes things very visible so the staff can see what's going on at all times." The four units have identical floor plans to aid staff in navigating the facility, Coffin said.
The design's emphasis on healing follows a recovery model of inpatient psychiatry, which supports the belief that people can recover from mental duress and live productive lives.
"Recovery is the new model in mental health," said Dr. Bradley Karlin, associate chief consultant of psychotherapy and psychogeriatrics for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Karlin said the new center is innovative in its adoption of this model, as recovery has not been emphasized in the development of other facilities.
"It will be a model, emblematic of what should be done," Karlin said. "I think we'll learn a lot from the experience."
Construction of the center is estimated to take two years, Nietupski said, with an opening date in 2011.