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Patient safety, comfort, and performance of materials are focal points for stakeholders of the Torrance Memorial Hunt Cancer Institute

Hunt Cancer Center at Torrance Memorial Hospital. Designed by C|A Architects and built by McCarthy Construction

by Eileen McMorrow

The Donald and Priscilla Hunt Cancer Institute on the Torrance Memorial Medical Center campus is the South Bay’s first standalone cancer center, providing patients with access to comprehensive cancer care. “When our team embarks on a project, we learn about their day to day experience in the current facility,” says Connie Senner, Director of Design & Construction/Administration, Torrance Memorial Medical Center. “In this case, it was a 42,000-sq.-ft. two-story facility with 18 bays for infusion therapy, a second-floor chemo lab, and pharmacy operating five days a week.”  It was confined with tight quarters; the new facility provided an opportunity to banish the old look of a cancer center.

The new facility, architecturally designed and planned by C l A Architects, Long Beach, California, opened in December 2019 and provided patient cancer treatments throughout the Covid-19 pandemic with its expansive space design and furniture layout, allowing for distance between immunocompromised patients. Each station is set up for a single patient, providing ample space for family members to remain with loved ones during treatment.

Hunt Cancer Institute waiting room at Torrance Memorial Hospital, designed by C|A Architects and built by McCarthy Construction.

Patient safety is the primary concern for its management. The mandate for the design and construction team included appropriate furnishings to achieve comfortable patient treatment that allows patients to have a family member or a guest with them in the treatment bay. “We had to provide support mechanisms for the patient and family member to be there. The physicians voiced a desire to pull family support into the treatment space for the healing process and not just have them in a waiting room,” Senner explains.

“We learned that infection prevention for immunocompromised populations includes specific considerations for hard surfaces and textiles,” says Senner. “It was extremely important to us along with the sustainability factor. We wanted to go in a direction with high-quality furniture and textiles that would hold up for patient experience and the environmental services staff. We put our furnishings through a battlefield with vacuums and cleaning processes. Part of that knowledge has us moving away from wood-framed products, and Kwalu does not use wood or use arm caps that harbor bacteria.”

Torrance Memorial Hunt Cancer Center, also a part of the Cedars Sinai Medical Office Building, features Kwalu’s Valdina Collection.
Banish the woods

Our dealership and Torrance are committed to not using the wood products in healthcare because once the surface is compromised, it is open to bacteria and pathogens lingering in the frame. With the Kwalu furniture, that is not a problem. Many medical facilities have moved away from wood.

Karen L. Braun, account manager, D&R OfficeWorks, Inc., El Monte, California

A patient and family reception area features Kwalu Valdina lounge chairs and the Sutera sofa table.

“Cancer patients are more vulnerable to C. difficile due to a weakened immune system,” explains Sylvia Nash, vice president of healthcare, Kwalu. “Our surfaces are healthcare chemicals-proof, offering field-replaceable componentry for changing damaged or soiled fabrics. Connie Senner knows the cleaning protocol is high for Kwalu as a brand.” Kwalu surfaces can be cleaned and will withstand the rigors of cleaning because the brand tested all the EPA-registered cleaners for C.difficile disinfection, and its products performed.

The Joint Commission Resource issued a statement in 2018 that wood and fabrics are harder to disinfect and hospitals have to address surface rust. “But Kwalu cannot and will not rust,” says Nash, who is fond of stating that Kwalu is Joint Commission-ready for 10 years.“We also wanted to prevent vandalism with scratching on the furniture frames, and we do not want arm caps that harbor bacteria,” says Senner. “Kwalu products are really hard to scratch; people cannot deliberately scratch their furniture.”

As project managers and design professionals, we make our decisions with the stakeholders. We were impressed by the products when we toured other parts of Torrance Memorial where Kwalu lines have been specified.

Connie Senner, Director of Design & Construction/Administration, Torrance Memorial Medical Center

“As project managers and design professionals, we make our decisions with the stakeholders,” says Senner. “We were impressed by the products when we toured other parts of Torrance Memorial where Kwalu lines have been specified.” In these more public parts of the hospital Senner notes the furnishings encounter even more wear and tear 24/7/365. They are holding up and the hospital management also recognized that aspect.

“In recent years, Kwalu has added more design features that are contemporary and modern,” says Karen L. Braun, account manager, D&R OfficeWorks, Inc., El Monte, California. “Torrance Memorial is paying attention to the details of artwork and finishes in its medical facilities, so while the hospital had specified Kwalu up to seven years ago, the design team felt the Kwalu aesthetic also had become more modern and could fit with the contemporary interiors for the new cancer treatment facility.”

A green-hued color scheme is applied to Kwalu furnishings to complement the walls in settings closer to the patient treatment areas.

“The installed Kwalu furniture (in other sections of Torrance Memorial Hospital) is holding up beyond expectations for the stakeholders,” remarks Senner. “Frankly, when you try to impart your experience with some brands, people can be skeptical. But they saw it and know how it all held up through the Covid-19 cleaning protocols.”

Braun reports the same experience. “D&R installed Kwalu chairs more than seven years ago for the volunteer room, and they still look great. The legs are not banged, dinged, or scuffed; they look new.”

Furthermore, Kwalu’s seating is hefty–it cannot easily be moved or knocked over–as Braun notes, no hospital management wants its furniture relocated.

Performance beyond expectations

One of the challenges that Senner volunteered was the continued effort by architectural/interior designers to try to specify cloth contract fabrics. “It just does not work. You have to scrub clean and then dry the cloth fabric on chairs. We don’t have the luxury of time. We need the vinyl coverings; they hold up and are being designed to a higher aesthetic in the past few years.”

Kwalu focuses on component replacement. If a fabric fails, it has to be replaced but the frame around the fabric will withstand 10 years or more. Most fabrics won’t withstand five years, so it is important to have components that can come apart for field replacement in 10 minutes, Nash explains.

“I have been to the Kwalu showroom in Atlanta with the (Torrance Memorial) manager of the engineering refurbishment department,” Senner imparts, “because it was important to have someone involved with the ongoing maintenance for drawer glides and pulls, hinges, sofa feet, etc. He is looking at furniture from different perspectives.”

“By the time we leave the Kwalu showroom, we understand that the better solutions for healthcare are there.”