El Camino Behavioral Health Services Building: A New Kind of Facility Supporting Mental Health

El Camino Behavioral Health Services Building: A New Kind of Facility Supporting Mental Health

Strengthening El Camino’s reputation as “The Hospital of Silicon Valley,” the new Behavioral Health Services building will accommodate the expansion of the existing inpatient and outpatient programs in a modern 55,000 square-foot, 36-bed building.  

People suffering from mental illness are often under stress as a result of their condition, and this is often amplified by cultural stigma surrounding mental healthcare. These societal pressures can translate into patients delaying or even avoiding treatment to elude judgement by others. In the Bay Area this is a particularly charged issue, interwoven with homelessness, budget cuts, and systemic underfunding. In this climate, El Camino chose to develop a new kind of Behavioral Health facility that would begin to chip away at this complicated landscape. In response, WRNS designed a structure that aims to “lift the veil” from the face of behavioral healthcare and overcome these historically negative associations. The building’s face to the community is intended to be light in spirit, non-institutional, and non-threatening, with the goal of supporting acceptance of mental illness and its treatment. 

The entry Lobby is visually prominent and welcoming: a two-story glass form that will be easily recognizable within the park-like setting of the existing campus — intended to put patients at ease and alleviate stress. The material palette of zinc panels, terra cotta-colored cement board, and concrete responds to the wooded location under the existing, mature heritage trees on site. The effect is calming — reinforcing a connection to nature. 

Data gathering is critical for the specialized design process for a behavioral healthcare environment, and we worked closely with El Camino Hospital staff to conduct ongoing data gathering and analysis throughout the design process. The modern-day model of care for treatment focuses on stabilizing patients within an inpatient setting for short periods of time, then enabling the patient to return home and continue treatment as an outpatient. Gone are the days of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and Girl, Interrupted(among other popular culture interpretations of the often horrific mental health treatment practices of the past). This new treatment method emphasizes patients’ return to normalcy in their daily lives, which is, as the healthcare industry now knows, a huge contributing factor to successful ongoing care.

One strategy we used to assist in the stabilization of patients who are undergoing inpatient treatment is the specification of light fixtures and timed controls that permit color temperature to subtly change over the course a 24-hour period. Research indicates that this may indeed enhance natural Circadian Rhythm and assist in the stabilization of moods and sleep patterns that are often disrupted due to mental illness. 

Safety and security of patients and staff was a primary concern for El Camino, and influenced every decision throughout the design process. The final design limits “blind corners” and any fixtures or elements that could be used for self-harm or the harm of others. Patient rooms are designed with custom doors that could be removed within less than a minute in the case that a patient is in any danger in their private room. Window glazing is polycarbonate or laminated safety glazing to prevent shattering, and all screws and fasteners are tamper-proof. 

In order to better serve the community, the new building and redesigned site will create a safe and tranquil environment that will provide quality treatment for patients experiencing acute mental crisis. Construction is slated to begin in 2017, and the project is pursuing LEED for Healthcare Gold certification. We can’t wait for the new facility to support the El Camino staff in their critical work changing the way we treat mental illness in the Bay Area.