Designing for comfort and hope

From tissues in tool carts to cherry blossom art, how Novant Health’s construction team members provide remarkable care

The final phase of construction on the Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center took shape in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Like healthcare, construction was one of those industries deemed essential, and so the work continued. But there were still limitations, which meant the team had to get creative, particularly as the opening date for the institute approached.

Terrell Conklin,
Project manager,
Novant Health

Terrell Conklin, a project manager with corporate design services at Novant Health, remembers it well.

“The team members on-site took pictures and sent them to me. They FaceTimed me to show me progress. Everybody had a different situation when it came to whether they could or couldn’t go somewhere, but everyone really pulled together to make it work,” Conklin said.

Brandon Rich, senior construction manager with Novant Health, agreed.

“I don’t think it slowed us down one bit,” he said.

Brandon Rich,
Senior construction manager,
Novant Health

In fact, it didn’t. The Wallace Cancer Institute opened on Aug. 12, 2020 — on time, despite everything.

This is the kind of commitment that comes from the members of the construction team at Novant Health. Many of them came to the health system with experience in residential and commercial projects, but Rich and Conklin say that healthcare construction and design carry a special significance.

“When you’re working on projects outside of healthcare construction, you’re basically just shooting for the end goal of getting a certificate of occupancy, and then you move onto the next project. You’re not tied to it after that,” said Rich, who has worked for Novant Health for 15 years. “Working in our facilities, you’re more connected to it. You see the patients, and you hope everything you did in the project helps them in some way — that it creates a calm, soothing place to be.”

“Calm” and “soothing” are not always easy to incorporate in a healthcare setting.

“The things that make you calm and comfortable are soft things, which we can’t have,” Conklin said. “We can’t have fabric or live plants or carpet because these things can carry germs and this can make patients with weakened immune systems sick. Instead, we try to convey that comfort and warmth in our paint colors, the warmer wood tones in our floors, the lighting, the artwork. We make sure everything is uplifting and bright.”

Inside the Wallace Cancer Institute, for instance, Rick Parker, executive director of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation found several artists who were willing to donate their work to the new space. One of those pieces depicts a cherry blossom tree. It was a donation from artist Kevin Moss, a Rowan County native, and it’s titled “Bloom Where You Stand.” The inspiration came from real-life experience: Moss watched his wife battle cancer and wanted to give families going through a similar fight something that would give them comfort and hope.

“That’s just an example of how our donors and really the whole town of Salisbury came together to bring this institute to life,” Conklin said. “They were able to share with us what the community needed, what would best represent Salisbury and how they could help make this happen.”

For Matt Stiene, vice president of construction and engineering for Novant Health, completion of the Wallace Cancer Institute represents a significant achievement, given the circumstances that surrounded the most critical phases of construction.

“The team was able to deliver the Wallace Cancer Center on time, while adapting to the virtual environment created by a global pandemic,” Stiene said. “In conjunction with our design and construction partners, we continued to deliver on providing opportunities for diverse organizations to participate in the project.”

While the new institute was a massive undertaking, Rich and Conklin both recognize even the smallest efforts have the potential to make an impact.

When a group of pediatricians in Charlotte joined the Novant Health system, for instance, Conklin helped them turn their waiting room into a treehouse, bringing levity and fun to a space that can be intimidating for young patients. At Novant Health Matthews Medical Center, she worked on transforming the infusion space for cancer patients. The goal, once again, was to bring comfort to patients in need, and in a very unexpected way, Conklin has seen that goal take shape.  

“I have a high school friend who was cancer-free, and then it came back. He is now going through radiation and chemo, and he has posted pictures on social media of that infusion space,” Conklin said. “I can’t help him directly, but I was able to make the space he’s in four times a week feel comfortable.”

For Rich, making an impact isn’t always about the work being done inside Novant Health facilities. It’s more about how you show up each and every day.

“Back when I was working at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center, the team members working in engineering would push around a cart with all of their tools, and a lot of them would carry tissues, too,” Rich said. “I can’t tell you how many times you run into patients and visitors and they’re upset. You don’t know what’s wrong. You don’t ask. But just a simple gesture of going up and giving them a tissue, it means a lot to them.”

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