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Essex County Hospital Center

July 1, 2007
by root
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Photography by Bjorg Magnea

Built on an 11-acre sloping site, the new Essex County Hospital Center's (ECHC) Institute for Mental Health Policy, Research and Treatment is a 180-bed acute psychiatric care facility in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. It replaces a late 19th-century healthcare building that, although architecturally striking, had become outdated and technically insufficient, with limited capabilities for accommodating modern psychiatric treatment programs. The new facility was designed by Cannon Design.

To accomplish ECHC's goal of enabling all patients to receive appropriate care in the least restrictive environment, the new 151,000-square-foot facility was built with the idea of using a “Matrix Model” of care, which emphasizes community reentry through creating a normalizing environment. This means that patients' experiences while being treated at the Institute are similar to those they will have once they return to their lives outside of the facility. To help patients with the adjustment, the facility features a lifestyle assimilation unit where they can practice skills they need for life in the community, such as cooking, washing clothes, and so on.

The Institute is organized around the concept of a healing village—a series of multistory buildings with specific functions for patient care. At the heart of the village is a central outdoor courtyard and “community green.” Patients, families, visitors, and staff members have unrestricted access to this secure space for social, recreational, and educational uses. Enclosing the community green is the primary circulation zone that serves as an indoor social rehabilitation mall, where patients can practice interacting with others.

To the west and south of this central hub are spaces dedicated to the active care of patients—from medical to spiritual to social. Along the community green's east side is a two-story administration building, with main administrative functions on the upper level and centralized educational facilities on the lower level. During off-hours the public is invited to use the facility's multipurpose classrooms.

The Institute's main entry is a two-story glass lobby, situated at the junction of the administration building and the social rehabilitation mall. The cube-shaped lobby offers direct views of the community green. At night the lobby is well lit, serving as a beacon for the campus.

Lifestyle Assimilation Unit

Facing the thickly forested portion of the site are the residential neighborhoods, composed of two three-story buildings housing a total of six patient care units. The units were designed to be able to adapt to changing patient characteristics. The units are divided into night zones, including bedrooms and hygienic facilities, and day zones, with dining, on-unit treatment, recreation, and lounge spaces. A care team center is situated at the juncture of the two zones. Each unit has direct access to either a secure covered patio or porch.