The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized profound weaknesses in healthcare and the inequities that have traditionally pervaded it. The virus has highlighted gaps and exacerbated them. Decades of widespread dependence on employment-based coverage meant Americans could lose coverage if they changed or lost their jobs. Layoffs show that as many as 7.7 million workers and 6.9 million dependents lost health coverage and a paycheck, as of June 2020, according to the Commonwealth Fund. Moreover, the pandemic has intensified stark differences in health services and outcomes between racial and income groups that have long existed. Schmidt Associates is honored to be a partner in improving access to underserved, marginalized, or underrepresented communities challenged with access to equivalent care.

As healthcare architects and interior designers, our primary strategies include understanding clinical and social factors in vulnerable populations and through design, creating spaces that are welcoming and of a human scale. We work with organizations to embed cultural humility into the environment of care, enabling caregivers to provide equitable services in marginalized areas. Schmidt Associates works with clients who are expanding core services to offer primary and chronic care solutions, including non-clinical solutions, such as social and behavioral health services.

Where are we doing it? Right here in Louisville, Kentucky. During the pandemic, Russ Cox, CEO of Norton Healthcare, announced the system’s commitment to removing obstacles that prevent underserved Louisville residents from receiving much deserved healthcare, as well as to eliminate disparities in the care they do receive.

“We must collectively work harder and faster than ever to embrace and understand our differences, be more inclusive, create a sense of belonging, build a genuine welcoming environment for everyone, and ensure that all people have an equal chance to live a healthy life,” Cox said.

As a part of that commitment, Norton has taken a leadership role in engaging with West Louisville residents and community members to address access and equity. Primary elements of the commitment are a $20 million commitment to permanent facilities within underserved neighborhoods; mirroring the community with representative leadership; providing access to primary care, education, and advocacy. This follows the establishment of the West Louisville YMCA primary care office and a $5 million investment with the Louisville Urban League.

Earlier this year, Norton called on Schmidt Associates and CL Anderson Architecture to work with their staff and Executive Director, Dr. Kelly McCants, on the architecture and interior design of the Norton Healthcare Institute for Health Equity. The Institute is in Village West and will house social services, telemedicine, behavioral health, collaboration space, a community room, as well as administrative leadership, staff, and support spaces.

Renderings of Norton Healthcare Institute for Health Equity

“We are honored and delighted to work with our friend and fellow architect, Carey Anderson, AIA, Dr. McCants, his team, and the leadership of Norton Healthcare to bring the vision for the Institute to life,” said John Robertson, Jr., AIA, NCARB, Principal at Schmidt Associates.

As we look to the future, we view space utilization from a perspective of culture, comfort, and visitor management that instills a sense of trust and permanency. Our goal is to aid in making the healthcare experience for people “frictionless.” Enhancing technology such as touchless experiences has become the consumers’ expectation; maintaining clinical efficiency and throughput also remain important. We’re creating new designs that incorporate these and many other innovations, and we want to bring this into underserved areas.