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Kaiser Permanente Southwood Comprehensive Medical Center

A Member-Focused Design

Headquartered in Oakland, California, Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans, serving more than 10.6 million members across the United States. As part of a strategic growth initiative for the Atlanta market, Kaiser Permanente sought to expand and renovate its Southwood Comprehensive Medical Center facility in Jonesboro, Georgia, to improve its medical efficiency, technology, and ability to meet the needs of a growing community.

In 2011, the healthcare leader selected GS&P to provide comprehensive building design, site layout and phasing plans for the project. The three-phase expansion and renovation of the outpatient medical center included a 5,500-square-foot addition to the existing 40-year-old structure (Building 1), a new 65,000-square-foot multispecialty building (Building 2), and a 58,000-square-foot renovation to revitalize and transform the original areas of Building 1.

“We were tasked with developing a design that was guided by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan’s design guidelines, which are nationally instituted,” says architect Adam Smith. “Although we’d previously been involved in some design competition work with Kaiser Permanente that put us on their radar screen, this was our first official project with the organization. We went through goal-setting and visioning exercises at the beginning of the effort to gain a better understanding of what they wanted to achieve with this project and how we could incorporate our own design solution with their established standards. A big part of setting those goals was simply listening to the client and talking through their needs.”

As a result of those early visioning sessions, the team identified three major project goals: promote efficiency, provide a “Total Health Environment,” and respond to the organization’s responsibility to society.

Promoting Efficiency


Intuitive wayfinding, a seamless continuity between the new and existing facilities, and flexible clinic modules came together to produce a more efficient design for the client.

“Medical centers can be extremely difficult to navigate,” notes interior designer Ashley Wood. “To create a more patient-friendly experience, we incorporated bold colors and clear and concise focal points that enhance wayfinding. For example, we used orange accents to highlight all staff work locations so that visitors will intuitively know where assistance can be found in any department. The consistent use of finishes throughout the facility also provides clear direction.”

“Graphics and signage were another key consideration in the design,” adds architect Clint Harris. “Wayfinding cues, such as the use of supergraphics in public areas, ultimately led to an additional level of distinction between public and staff zones.”   

To support operational efficiency, the layout of the medical center was developed to create a seamless connection between the new and existing buildings while also providing a secondary entrance. Direct public and staff connections were made between the two buildings, further promoting efficiency as well as continuity.

“To connect the new building to the original medical center, we designed a two-story glass lobby that was inspired by Kaiser Permanente’s ‘Thrive’ campaign, which focuses on the total health and wellness of its staff and members,” says Harris. “The new connecting lobby promotes physical movement and features a monumental staircase for easy access from one clinic floor to the next.”

Acknowledging that the needs of the healthcare market can rapidly change, clinics were designed with standardized exam room modules, giving staff the flexibility to expand or reduce a clinic’s exam room quantities based on need.

“The incorporation of flexible clinic modules will allow the building to adapt to changing clinical needs without having to incur major renovations,” explains Smith. “Standardizing the exam rooms means that whether you’re in oncology, urology, pediatrics or primary care, all of the rooms are set up exactly the same so staff can flex back and forth between the various specialties. The hospital’s existing clinic modules simply didn’t allow that flexibility.”


Providing a Total Health Environment


Incorporating Kaiser Permanente’s signature brand elements throughout the facility was key to creating a Total Health Environment—a member-focused initiative for the organization. Senior architect Brent Hughes explains:

“Kaiser Permanente is unique in being a nonprofit integrated health plan that provides healthcare to its patients—or members, as Kaiser Permanente refers to them. They treat patients more like consumers who have a choice in their healthcare. Kaiser Permanente’s mission is to take care of the customer and make sure they have nothing but a positive experience in their encounters. The organization also wants people to have a consistent experience at every location—whether it’s a clinic in Georgia or a hospital in California. Kaiser Permanente’s philosophy is that great brands evoke emotional experiences, and they wanted their customers to experience the ‘Total Health’ promise that’s featured in their advertising campaigns. This idea extended to the rebranding effort for the hospital’s exterior as well as the design of the new entry for the facility.”

To highlight the Kaiser Permanente brand, the design team oriented the entrance for Building 2 toward the site’s primary traffic artery. The increased visibility allows its sleek metal-panel facade featuring the organization’s distinctive logo to act as a billboard and key piece of wayfinding. The new entrance combines several clinic registrations, significantly reducing congestion at the medical center’s main entrance.

Design features throughout the new and renovated interiors also support Kaiser Permanente’s Total Health Environment by inspiring visitors to lead a more active lifestyle.

 “As you enter Building 2, there’s signage that points out areas of active-occupant design,” notes Smith. “For example, visitors are encouraged to take the stairs instead of using the elevator. Kaiser Permanente is devoted to keeping patients healthy, and our design solutions support their various initiatives for preventive care.”


Responsibility to the Environment and Community


Known for their environmental stewardship, both GS&P and Kaiser Permanente agreed that creating a sustainable and energy-responsible facility would increase the medical center’s long-term viability and make it a better steward of the surrounding community and its vital resources, such as water and energy.

“Sustainability and maximizing energy efficiency were key guiding principles for the project from the very beginning,” says engineering project manager John Horst. “We conducted a life-cycle cost analysis that evaluated not only the initial cost of purchasing and installing the building’s mechanical systems but also the operating cost over the lifetime of the facility. Working closely with Kaiser Permanente, we ultimately selected an extremely efficient mechanical system that helped us meet our goal of achieving LEED Silver certification.”

Other energy-reduction measures include a well-designed thermal envelope, energy-recovery units, occupancy sensors, and full energy monitoring reported to Kaiser Permanente’s regional headquarters.

“In terms of overall performance, ENERGY STAR® sets a target of 100 EUIs—or energy use intensity—for a facility of this type and size. Since the renovation and expansion effort, Southwood now has an EUI of 78, 22 percent lower than our benchmark,” adds Horst. “I truly believe the active dialogue and coordination between GS&P and Kaiser Permanente played a pivotal role in this accomplishment.”

Sustainable design features such as dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals, and low-flow faucets and showerheads were incorporated into the interiors, reducing water consumption by 20 percent. Below ground, a 65,000-gallon water cistern collects rainwater runoff from the buildings’ rooftops and provides 100 percent of the site’s irrigation needs. Diminishing the demand for virgin materials, 30 percent of all building materials contain recycled content. Twenty-five percent of materials used were sourced from within 500 miles of Jonesboro.

Also contributing to the facility’s LEED Silver status are features that promote the overall health of occupants, such as low-VOC materials to improve indoor air quality, recycled content in indoor finishes, and providing for alternative transportation means.


An Elegant Design Solution


Providing additional medical services and patient capacity by nearly doubling its size, the revamped Southwood Comprehensive Medical Center meets the needs and goals outlined in Kaiser Permanente’s strategic market expansion plan. Through careful coordination with the owner, the team successfully implemented the desired member-focused design and completed the expansion and renovation effort several million dollars under budget.

“As a full-service project, Southwood is a great example of what makes GS&P successful: a multidisciplinary effort to understand and realize the client’s goals,” says Hughes. “Working as a unified team, we provided an elegant solution that meets Kaiser Permanente’s high standards for design and quality. Due to the success of the Southwood project, GS&P is now a member of Kaiser Permanente's Preferred Provider program, which has selected us to provide professional services for numerous projects going forward.”

“We have worked with GS&P on numerous projects over the last five years,” says Stephen Cox, Manager of Facilities Design and Construction at Kaiser Permanente. “Their collaborative spirit and design leadership have exceeded Kaiser Permanente’s expectations and helped transform our vision into reality. By focusing on our goals and the membership experience, GS&P has consistently delivered projects that are safe, efficient, sustainable and an integral part of the communities we work in.”  


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Project Info

  • Client: Kaiser Permanente
  • Location: Jonesboro, GA, USA
  • Market: Healthcare Design
  • Services: Architecture, Interior Design, Civil Engineering, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP), Environmental Graphics and Wayfinding
  • Team:
    • Tisha Bandish
    • Bill Butler
    • Brennon Clayton
    • Chandra Clonan
    • Joyce Ferguson
    • Jim Harding, SEGD
    • Justin Hethcote, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, CxA
    • Christopher D. Hoal
    • Michael D. Hunkler, P.E., LEED AP, ENV SP
    • Deanna Kamal
    • Melissa Long, EIT
    • Mack McCoy, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
    • E. Michele McMinn, IIDA, LEED AP ID+C, EDAC
    • David V. McMullin, P.E., LEED AP
    • Jeffery E. Morris, AIA, LEED AP, LEAN, EDAC, NCARB
    • Terence S. Mulvaney, RLA, CLARB
    • Parhem Penn O'Briant
    • Tim A. Rucker, SEGD
    • Trey Rudolph, RLA
    • Jane S. Skelton, NCIDQ, IIDA, EDAC, LEED AP
    • William Curtis Smith, P.E., LEED AP BD+C
    • Kristen Vaughn, LEED AP
    • Bogue M. Waller, P.E.
    • Jack E. Weber, IIDA, MCR, LEED AP
    • Johnathan C. Woodside, P.E., LEED AP O+M, C.E.M., GBE
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