Two practices; one first-rate plan
By Sarah A. Moser, Associate Editor
When Dr. Dermot Jevens, Dipl. ACVS, moved from Pittsburgh to Greenville, S.C., in 1997, he decided he needed to get to know the area before building a hospital. So he leased space for his specialty practice from an emergency clinic. Animal Emergency Clinic (AEC), owned by 37 shareholders, welcomed Dr. Jevens and Upstate Veterinary Specialists (UVS) into the AEC facility.
"Leasing space from AEC made sense for both practices, because we could be sure our patients had overnight care and the emergency doctors could gain access to specialists," Dr. Jevens says. Dr. Jevens partnered with Dr. Keith Allen, Dipl. ACVS, in 1998, and together they began to develop the practice. They also added internal medicine services, headed up by Dr. Trina Toshach, Dipl. ACVIM.
UVS quickly outgrew the facility, which was housed in a converted Hardee's restaurant. "The old building failed to project the high-quality image we desired, and it limited our ability to provide access to other specialties and new services," Dr. Jevens says. So he approached AEC, explaining to the shareholders why building a new practice together was a good idea for both parties. The final result" UVS undertook the building project, and AEC agreed to lease space-a reverse from the previous deal.
Their business arrangement paid off with increased business, more technology, and a much-improved working area. The well-planned design also won Upstate Veterinary Specialists/Animal Emergency Clinic in Greenville, S.C., the 2003 Veterinary Economics Hospital of the Year award.
Giving the project legs
The first big challenge the practice owners faced was finding one perfect site to merge the two practices. As a referral practice serving a 60-mile radius, UVS needed easy access to major highways, while AEC needed community visibility. Fourteen months and two realty companies later, the doctors found their ideal property. The site was centrally located in a well-known area near an easy-access highway. "We wanted the new facility to have presence in the community, and we got it with a corner lot with a bit of an incline that was perfect for signage," Dr. Jevens says.
Drs. Jevens and Allen say that building a new facility while still nurturing a relatively new business required careful planning. "We realized early on that one of us would need to become the project director while the other focused on making sure the operations of the practice continued without any problems," Dr. Allen says. So Dr. Jevens put the majority of his efforts into the building project while Dr. Allen continued growing the surgical caseload.
The key to the project's success was hiring the right people for the job and getting input from all parties-including staff members, Dr. Jevens says. "We really wanted the space to fit everyone's needs, so we gave our staff members and AEC the freedom to help design their own areas of the practice," he says.
After extensive research, Dr. Jevens hired Larry Gates from Gates Hafen Cochrane Architects in Boulder, Colo., to draw up the plan. One of the main considerations was how to merge the two practices successfully. In particular, they were concerned about making each entrance distinct and separate-while looking like a united business.
"The two most challenging considerations were designing for the crossover that occurs every morning and evening and designing a facility that works well with the two distinct kinds of practices," says Gates. "We designed the emergency clinic to be compact, easy to maneuver, and easy to run with only a few people and gave more space to the specialty practice in the working areas."
Together, yet separate
Next came the challenge of designing two separate reception areas. "We had difficulty differentiating between the two practices at the previous facility, and individual entrances have helped maintain our separate identities," Dr. Jevens says. UVS chose a greeter station to minimize traffic flow in their reception area. The greeter directs clients and their pets directly to exam rooms. A cashier is stationed behind the exam rooms and checks out clients in the exam room. AEC opted for a traditional reception area to maximize seating capacity. The area features a large reception desk where clients check in and out.
One distinguishing factor in this facility is the use of vibrant colors. "Our mantra, 'specialty medicine, personal care,' translates well into the bright color scheme we chose," says Dr. Jevens. "Our decor presents a high-tech image while remaining warm and inviting to clients." Heather Lewis, from Gates Hafen Cochrane Architects, put together a color board outlining what color she suggested for each area of the hospital, including tile, carpet, vinyl, and wall paint.
"It was a bit intimidating to see so much color at first, but we wanted to let Heather do what she's trained to do," says Dr. Jevens. "We couldn't have imagined how happy we and our clients would be with the finished result."
Another concern was defining shared vs. owned space and equipment, Gates says. "To control the overall size of the building, it was important to establish what spaces the practices could share, what equipment needed to be secured, and what controls were necessary for the drug supply inventory," he says. "Our design allows the various specialties to have distinct precincts reserved for each practice's use-and areas where they overlap. We also included dedicated storage closets for visiting specialists to keep their equipment available and secure and to minimize the clutter in the exam rooms."
Attention to detail
The judges of the 2003 Hospital Design Competition praised the veterinarians' and architect's attention to details when planning, building, and decorating the practice. For instance, the counters in the surgery prep room are set at a different height around the sinks, keeping water off the counters and protecting work surfaces.
Another detail judges praised were the bumper guards throughout the practice. "You'll find large guards on doors, rails, walls, and corners, because in an emergency practice, staff members must speed sick or injured pets on gurneys down the hallway, which causes wear and tear on everything they come in contact with," Dr. Jevens says.
Because the facility is in use 24 hours a day, high-quality materials were a must. For example, Dr. Jevens insisted on topnotch cabinetry that would withstand opening and shutting all day and night. He opted for tile flooring with sealed grout in reception areas because it wears well, and he used seamless vinyl coved up the walls in the exam rooms and work areas for easy cleaning.
"There's a night and day difference between where we were a year ago and our practice today," says Dr. Jevens. "The atmosphere is more professional, warm, and inviting. We couldn't be happier with the results."