Designing Healthcare for Regional Communities

Unlike any other State or Territory in the country, most Queensland residents live in regional areas. To support this decentralised population, regional communities demand the same standard of critical care and services that is provided in any major city.

Fulton Trotter Architects has been working in regional health and community projects in Western Queensland for 70 years. Paul Trotter, Director of Fulton Trotter Architects has continued that legacy.

Here he discusses four key considerations for designing healthcare facilities in regional areas. These lessons could be applied to any healthcare facility in Australia.

As with any healthcare project, the challenge is to understand the processes and model of care specific to that centre. The model of care and patient flow dictates the relationship between different departments, which essentially informs the overall layout of the hospital.

1. Importance of understanding the vast difference between metro and regional health services

Unsurprisingly, there are vast differences in the model of care associated with metro and regional health centres – primarily dictated by scale and the range of medical services supported. Very few towns for example, can support their own renal dialysis department or even their own operating ward, so the centre – and importantly its staff – must be able to accommodate a wider range of services, under the one roof. Because of this integrated approach, regional hospitals tend to be more intimate and relaxed in how they operate, and therefore in their design.

“Regional hospitals tend to be more intimate and relaxed in how they operate, and therefore in their design.”

2. Designing for extreme variable climates

Understanding the climatic variation in regional areas is fundamental. Particularly in Western Queensland, it can get very hot in summer and very cold in winter. Likewise, there is infrequent rain, but when it does, it rains very hard, and for a long time. These are elementary design considerations that you must understand to make provisions for landscaping, materials, lighting and ventilation, etc.

3. Designing with limited resources

Working in regional areas also requires consideration of the availability of labour and materials. We use local trades and services whenever we can. You also need to ensure your building is specified using locally available materials and systems, for easy ongoing maintenance.

4. Critical importance of community involvement

In smaller regional towns, hospitals play a very significant role in the community, as the key stakeholders – the staff, patients and their families – are usually local. They have a far greater personal investment in the community, so it is even more important to listen and understand their needs.