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$460-million Women's College Hospital design influenced by intense research among women

When the model of the final plans for the new Women's College Hospital were unveiled at the end of September, the press release was headed "One thousand women. One thousand voices. One hospital reinvented to meet their needs."

And according to hospital president and CEO Marilyn Emery, those 1,000 women interviewed online, by phone and in focus groups, had a profound effect on what the new hospital is going to look like, and how it's going to operate.

As a result of their two years of research, the hospital decided that privacy, safety, flexible family eating areas with diverse food options, open spaces with curved walls and staircases, and accessibility are all big priorities.

"Safety and privacy for some women means there's an opportunity to use a washroom that's a single-unit washroom instead of communal," Emery says, "especially for trans women, and it's considered a safety issue for many trans women."

But it was the discussions of accessibility, which Emery figured after 30 years in the healthcare industry she knew all about, that surprised her most.

"One thing that I learned from listening to women with disabilities was from a woman who herself was very, very large -- she required a mobility device," Emery says. "She said that through her entire adult life, she has never been able to undergo a physical examination in a room with the door shut because either the room wasn't large enough, or you couldn't shut the door with all of what was needed in the room. On the one hand, I couldn't believe my ears, but on the other hand, all I had to do was look at this woman to say, absolutely. We don't routinely build space that accommodates that kind of disability. It's a lot more than wheelchair access via a ramp in and out of a building."

The research encompassed a massive variety of communities and perspectives, including seniors, lesbian and queer women, lesbian and queer youth, transgendered women, women with addictions, abused women, women with disabilities, women living with HIV/AIDS, street workers, women with mental health issues, low-income women, recent immigrants, Tamil women, Bengali women, Caribbean women and Mandarin-speaking women.

The $460-million project is expected to open in 2016.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Marilyn Emery

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