The big thing about the Alaska Native Medical Center’s new Patient Housing is the countless number of small details that award-winning Neeser Construction is incorporating into the six-story, $40.74 million, 110,000-square-foot building and its sky bridge to make it feel like home to patients and their families.
From the beginning, the design team at KPB Architects of Anchorage drew on Alaska Native values, lifestyles, activities, stories, plants and animals to create familiar healing spaces for patients from infants to elders who need temporary continuing care but not formal hospitalization.
ANMC is a medical option for the 153,000 Alaska Natives and Native Americans who live in the state, and nearly 60 percent of its patients travel to Anchorage from distant villages, said Michelle Weston, public relations director for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which, with Southcentral Foundation, manages the hospital complex and the Alaska Native Primary Care Center.
The new patient housing will have 200 rooms, each with a private bath (a total of 260 beds), said Neeser senior project manager Neil Bhargava. This will relieve pressure on ANMC’s former on-campus family and patient housing, Quyana House, whose 54 rooms have been accommodating as many as 545 people every month. Almost 500 other people have had to be referred to private hotels as overflow each year.
Numbers tell the story, Weston said: The hospital’s 167 beds serve 7,526 admissions annually; in 2015, there were 118,488 specialty clinic visits, a 46 percent jump since 2012 (the total number of outpatient visits was 316,203); 60,348 people went to the emergency room; surgeons performed 16,079 operations; and 1,641 babies were born.
The additional housing and its 195-foot sky bridge to the hospital will give patients easy access to medical care and improve its continuity, especially important for cancer patients who require infusion and radiation therapy, outpatients undergoing specialized medical care, expectant mothers with high-risk pregnancies, children and elders.
Elements such as larger dining and gathering spaces were designed to accommodate the tradition of visiting with family during times of healing, said LeeAnn Garrick, ANTHC’s senior director of strategic access. A traditional courtyard garden was added to provide a natural setting where guests from every region will recognize plants from home.
The U-shaped building with a central glass courtyard links to a parking garage on the east. Two passenger elevators and one freight elevator will carry people and equipment from the lobby to every floor, all the way up to the sixth-floor Ronald McDonald House for mothers with high-risk pregnancies, pediatric patients and family members.
This area, the only Ronald McDonald House in Alaska, will have 34 rooms, each with a bathroom, full-size bed and sleeper chair; common areas with comfortable seating; a kitchen; access to a workout space, a business center, self-serve laundry and a cafeteria; and a library with books mothers can take home. Classes in skills such as beading and healthy cooking with traditional foods will promote Alaska Native culture.
The Patient Housing has expansion built in, said Andrew Weiss, KPB Architects’ lead project designer. “All single rooms on the second and third floors easily convert to doubles. The site is tight and it has been a challenge to fit everything on it, but we’ve had lots of experience working with Neeser — over 20 years of working together — and we’re a good fit as a team.”
Birches were chosen as a unifying design motif.
“We studied birch forests, the trees and the intervals between the trees, and we worked out that rhythm and used it to place the lighter-colored panels and the tall windows on the exterior,” Weiss said.
“Our goal for the inside was for it to feel comfortable, at home, safe. That’s why the courtyard is internal and surrounded by super-clear glass. Patients and their families can enjoy a natural environment in safety without having to go out in public. The courtyard plan is based on a mask, though you can’t really see it unless you’re looking from above.
“One courtyard element is a natural playground for children — no scary stuff but big grass mounds, wood, a slide and benches around it for the families. One of the things we’re most excited about is a game that allows the children to interact with Alaska wildlife characters on a large-screen TV to help them heal through art and play,” Weiss said.
A British design firm, Nexus Interactive Arts, created the first such interactive game, “Woodland Wiggle,” for the new Royal London Hospital for children. Nexus artist Chris O’Shea and development director Claire Spencer Cook flew to Anchorage in October 2015 to study Alaska wildlife for the Patient Housing installation, “Wilderness Wiggle,” Weiss said.
The pioneering interactive game on a 90-inch TV within a play space “will allow children to enter into a storybook-illustrated world enabling them to paint, play music and trigger sun, rain, snow and rainbows with animated native animal characters across a number of Alaska scenes, Neeser’s Bhargava said.
Other built-in comforts include family gathering kitchens on the second and fourth floors, dietary training, living areas and a marketplace, he said.
Throughout, the color palette is basically neutral, but each floor’s accent colors, graphics and feel are taken from a plant native to each of the five regions, Weiss said. The graphic designs were developed collaboratively between the ANTHC Marketing Department and KPB Architects.
The bulk of the money to build the Patient Housing facility and sky bridge came from Alaska Legislature-approved Certificates of Participation, similar to bonds, sold to investors by the state in 2014. KPB completed the design work that October; Neeser won the general contract lump sum to build it in February 2015 and broke ground that May, said George Tuckness, Neeser senior project manager. July was a big month: The Patient Housing’s foundation was completed, and by November the steel and roofing work were done and crews had begun the interior. In spring 2016, sky bridge construction got underway.
The Patient Housing isn’t Neeser’s only project on the Alaska Native Health campus. The company also built a four-story, 172,000-square-foot parking garage abutting the Native Primary Care Center, and the Alaska Native Medical Center’s Hybrid Radiology Operating Room, Endoscopy Day Surgery facility and the Radiology Server Room, Tuckness said, in addition to renovating the clinic in the ANTHC Healthy Communities Building.
Bhargava is also heavily involved with work on the 112,000-square-foot Southcentral Foundation’s Children’s Dental Clinic on a design/build contract, and a 499-space parking garage.
Patient Housing’s grand opening is set for Jan. 11, though the first guests will be welcomed into the new facility on Jan. 2, ANTHC’s Garrick said.
Cheryl Chapman is a writer and editor for MARCOA Publishing in Anchorage.