High Staff Retention at First LEED Platinum Hospital
The first hospital to achieve Platinum certification in LEED for New Construction, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, succeeds both in meeting high environmental standards and in creating an environment conducive to healing. The hospital also seems to have realized measurable benefits in attracting and retaining personnel.
Built on the 722-acre (300 ha) site of the former Austin municipal airport, the hospital (along with other buildings on the redeveloped site) is served by a gas-fired cogeneration plant, which lead architect Joseph Kuspan, AIA, of Karlsberger in Columbia, Ohio, says was crucial to gaining LEED Platinum certification. Multiple small air-handlers are distributed around the building instead of one massive unit, allowing “right-sizing” of the equipment and reducing the demand on fans; drawing fresh air from relatively cool courtyards reduces cooling loads.
The 473,000 ft² (44,000 m2), low-rise building wraps around seven courtyards landscaped with native plants—one of them with a dramatic waterfall—that make it possible for almost every point in the facility to be within 32 feet (9.8 m) of a window. Daylight, courtyard plantings, and indigenous mesquite and red sandstone enliven the building aesthetically, and may well do more—studies have shown that access to views of nature speeds healing (see EBN).
Bill Cook, the hospital’s operations manager, says that since Dell moved into its new building in 2007 the average length of patient stay has dropped; he believes the patients’ surroundings are a major factor. Cook says he often meets patients’ family members lingering simply because they enjoy the building. And although Dell has the same food service as several other hospitals, Cook says people remark on how much better the food is at Dell.
The building’s green features may also be improving staff retention. Average turnover among nursing staff nationwide is 10%–15%. In new buildings, the rate is typically even higher, as much as 30%. (That’s a fact that puzzles architect Kuspan, but he attributes it to the dislike of change.) In its first year of operation in its new building, Dell has had a turnover rate of just 2.4%. While Cook considers the appeal of living in Austin an asset for recruitment, he calls the beauty and green virtues of the building “the cherry on top of the cake.”