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A Hospital As Impressive As the Staff That Runs It

In 2015, Ronn Goodnough learned he had cancer for the second time in four years. Such news never comes at a good time but Ronn’s arrived as he led one of the Northwest’s biggest hospital expansions.

“My work took on a different feel. I was receiving care as I was helping design the future of health care for our community,” says Ronn, who is the clinical lead for the St. Michael Acute Care Expansion Project and one of the core members of the project’s leadership team.

Ronn’s care meant surgery, chemotherapy, “the whole thing.” It also involved a supportive wife and four scared kids. They were at the forefront of Ronn’s mind as he continued his work as the liaison between Virginia Mason Franciscan Health clinicians and the expansion’s architectural design team.


Ronn, who spent a decade in pediatric nursing, knows the forces at play in the halls of a hospital. “People are experiencing extreme emotions,” he says. “This is sacred space.”

But how do you honor that sanctity while also satisfying the needs of a working hospital? That’s been the question for Ronn and his team since the Acute Care Expansion began more than three years ago. The project will expand the Harrison Medical Center’s campus in Silverdale; hospital staff will see their first patient in January 2020. When they do, Ronn wants all involved to feel like they belong.

“I want the community to feel that we’re providing them with a respectful and thoughtful experience of health care,” he says. “I want people to feel like we’re thinking of them as they experience life and all that it comes with.”

That means caring about the details, whether it’s what view to give a patient — Dyes Inlet or the Olympic Mountains — to where the bathroom is situated — to the side of the bed for easier access.

“We’re trying to build a source of pride for the community,” says John Elswick, division director of planning, design, and construction at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. “We’re trying to build a healing environment.” Sustainability, he adds, goes hand in hand with accomplishing that goal.

One of the best yardsticks for sustainability is energy use intensity (EUI), or how much energy a building uses based on its size. A typical hospital has an EUI between 200 and 300 with many Northwest hospitals far exceeding 300 because of their age, says John. The Harrison Acute Care Expansion is aiming for 120.

“That’ll make this one of the most energy-efficient hospitals in the country,” he says. “It means more than energy savings; it’s about creating a sustainable environment.”

There’s a dedicated focus to the natural world in the hospital’s very layout. An on-site healing garden features boulders excavated during construction while trees cut down on the property get a second life as timber in the structure. Even the parking garage was designed with sustainability in mind; it requires no ducts to pump out fumes. “We designed it so that the wind can just blow right through,” John says. “It feels very comfortable; it feels like you’re outside.”

The Clear Creek Trail also plays a role in the new hospital. The 3.7-mile loop crosses hospital grounds but rather than reroute a beloved landmark, the team worked it in. “The trail goes through the building; it’s what patients look down on from their rooms,” says John. “Anyone walking along it can go through a specially designed lobby built around the idea of community.” That includes staff members, patients, and families.

“Rather than sitting in a break room or taking lunch in a cafeteria, they can take a 30-minute walk along the trail,” he says. “It’s all within the footprint of the hospital campus.”

This is more than the hospital of the future, says John. This is a hospital that can adapt. “We’ve taken thousands of hours to really make sure that we’re designing a hospital that will last,” he says.

As for Ronn, he’s cancer-free after receiving treatment at Harrison. “Our clinicians already do great work,” he says. Now, he adds, just imagine what they’ll be capable of when they have a space as impressive as them. “I can’t wait to see what they accomplish.”