The wellbeing of patients and staff front-of-mind in the modernisation of Melbourne’s St. Vincent’s Hospital mental health emergency department – all in a live environment.
How we rebuilt St. Vincent’s mental health emergency department while it remained open to patients and staff, to deliver a space that prioritises the wellbeing of its users.
St. Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne needed to modernise their emergency department hub for mental health, alcohol and other drugs as well as fit out a new Behavioural Assessment Room at their Fitzroy campus.
The aim of updating these facilities would be to ease pressure on other emergency departments, allowing for faster, specialised attention for patients. As the hospital is a live environment, it would remain open 24/7 throughout the building project. As such, it was essential that the chosen construction company work closely with the hospital and ambulance staff to ensure that there was maximum access (and minimal disruption) to the current facility. As this project occurred during the global pandemic, COVID OH&S protocol also needed to be strictly adhered to.
Having previously worked with St. Vincent’s Hospital on their ACMD Stage 1 Decant Project, Alchemy was chosen to lead this challenging project that would transform the operational capacity of this essential space.
Alchemy Project Manager Pauline Bastiaens explains how her team approached the first stages of the project in partnership with St. Vincent’s team, “We worked directly with the engineering department, clinical staff and people on the ground to understand what their needs were. In the first meeting, there were around 20 people involved to run through how we were going to stage it, who was going to be affected, what routes to allow for and how they could work with us to achieve this in as little time as possible.”
With patient care the highest priority throughout the site, Pauline reiterates the importance of maintaining open channels of communication with the team at St. Vincent’s in order to keep everyone safe, “With the coordination aspect, it’s critical to have open communication with the staff at the hospital to make sure you’re accounting for their needs. You want to make sure the patients get the best care possible; you don’t want to hinder that at all.”
Ian Wong of STH Architecture explains the thinking behind some key features in replanning the space, “Research has suggested that stressed individuals feel significantly better after exposure to nature scenes. So we referenced events that occur naturally in various landscapes, cloudy sunsets, changing of leaves and unique phenomena. The aim was create a sense of calm and promote new beginnings, a tranquil blue palette was used throughout the Unit. The internal spaces referenced external views and pulled these elements to create a space that feels warm, inviting and trustworthy while evoking a feeling of intimacy and belonging.”
“Research has suggested that stressed individuals feel significantly better after exposure to nature scenes. So we referenced events that occur naturally in various landscapes, cloudy sunsets, changing of leaves and unique phenomena.”
The Alchemy team worked across two locations to carry out the required building work.
The first location saw the transformation of an outdated Behavioural Assessment Room (BAR) at the Fitzroy Campus into a state-of-the-art facility designed to keep patients and staff safer. The existing BAR was no longer fit-for-purpose – it had no access to a toilet, did not have a modern anti-ligature fit-out and was not large
enough. The Alchemy team stripped the office space beside the BAR to expand the new assessment room while still retaining some necessary office space. They also built and kitted out a new en-suite for the BAR, a utility that was lacking previously.
The second part of the project was the refurbishment of the emergency department entrance, lobby and triage area as well as the new mental health and alcohol & other drugs hub; a purpose-built emergency facility. This included the installation of a mock sky light installation and blue colour scheme that give the space an uplifting feeling. Ian Wong of STH Architects explains, “One of the key features was to install a mock ‘sky’ light installation in the ceiling which gives the impression of daylight coming into the space, even though in actuality there are 10 floors above the department. The scheme allows patients to relate to identifiable objects and feel as though they are connected to their surroundings ”
As the hospital is a live environment, Alchemy worked closely with the hospital and Ambulance Victoria to make sure the staff had enough space to move the ambulance beds and equipment through safely and patients had clear directions to establish and maintain a separate construction zone with minimal disruption. “Being a hospital environment, there is no out-of-hours – we had to allocate a period of time each day which would cause the least disruption to staff and patients,” Pauline outlines.
What appeared to be a small project on paper quickly became a mighty challenge, as a wave of Coronavirus infections hit the hospital, turning the space beside the mental health hub into a COVID-19 ward.
“In order to work in that area the subcontractors and our staff had to wear full PPE,” explains Pauline “We really got an appreciation of what the nurses and hospital staff have to go through working in full HAZMAT PPE.”
Despite harsh environments and the adverse effect of COVID-19 on the project, the Alchemy team completed the three fit-outs on time and within budget, expertly handled by Site Manager Darren Mallee.
The emergency department hub for mental health, alcohol and other drugs as well as the new BAR are now up and running in St. Vincents, with positive feedback from the staff. “We’ve had reports that people are enjoying the space; it’s a brighter environment. The functionality has improved too; providing an environment that enables better protection for patients and staff ”, says Pauline.
Reflecting on the impact Alchemy made on the space, Pauline feels proud of the practicality of the space as well as the teams’ ability to work flexibly and safely in the face of some COVID curveballs.
“It was a stressful environment for everyone but it does leave you with a feeling of achieving a space that is functional, that the staff walk into and say ‘wow, this will make our jobs easier.”
“We’ve had reports that people are enjoying the space; it’s a brighter environment. The functionality has improved too; providing an environment that enables better protection for patients and staff.”