Honoring America's Heroes

Through interviews and research, designers gain an empathetic understanding of stakeholders’ unique needs. When those needs direct all design decisions, the result is truly patient-centered healthcare.

Before designing a new VA Medical Center in New Orleans to replace the one lost to Hurricane Katrina, NBBJ initiated a “Discovery” phase of intensive research. The project team spent hundreds of hours getting to know veterans and VA staff, learning about veterans’ lifestyles, researching statistics, touring other facilities and evaluating and refining the design.

These sessions uncovered a deep understanding of the hopes, dreams and concerns of veteran patients living in post-Katrina Louisiana. From these, a project vision developed that will guide the new medical center through to completion. As construction begins, stories and insights from these workshops continue to come up on a daily basis, confirming the powerful impact veterans have had on this project.

Usability Testing
Replacement Medical Center
Veteran-Centered Design
VA Worksessions
Hopes & Dreams Workshops
Veteran Culture Workshops
Immersion Research
Secondary Research
Evaluative Workshops
Design Integration

Four Insights

The research led the designers to four key insights about veterans and VA healthcare. These insights impacted every aspect of the project, but they were particularly influential in the design of patient check-in areas, wayfinding and graphics, interior finishes, furniture, and art. (See the SLVHCS project page for more details.)

Veteran care is different

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) treats the veteran patient for a lifetime. Thus, care is structured around maintaining health and wellness, not just treating episodic illness. Caregivers focus on prevention and chronic disease management, which requires an integrated approach among various practitioners.

Insight 1

For veterans, mental health is more than a “department”

Many veterans not officially diagnosed with mental illness find themselves dealing with “wounds that cannot be seen”: anxiety, social isolation, or posttraumatic stress, often compounded by Hurricane Katrina. SLVHCS practitioners must address veterans’ psychological conditions in concert with their physical ones.

Insight 2

Veteran needs are amplified in unique ways

Veteran patients are more likely to be older, have multiple disabilities or have mental health issues, compared with typical patients. As a result, VA design guidelines are more stringent to encompass mobility, visual impairment and other physical needs. An environment that meets those needs can significantly impact the physical, emotional, social and psychological health of veteran patients.

Insight 3

Veterans deserve more than they expect

Veterans deserve the best for their service and sacrifice. However, many expressed humble expectations, either because of generational differences, a regimented military lifestyle or the region’s cultural influences. The medical center design aims to provide services in a way that patients will find comfortable and natural, even as VA staff work tirelessly to bridge the expectations gap.

Insight 4