Find a home for patients’ personal items | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

Find a home for patients’ personal items

July 23, 2014
by Joseph Doherty
| Reprints
Click To View 2 Photos

The design of behavioral health facilities often requires unique innovations for common problems faced by caregivers on a daily basis. The best solutions are often the ones that are simple, elegant and durable.

A common problem among behavioral health clients is that patients come to the facility for treatment with luggage, knapsacks and a lot of their possessions. These items and other contraband must be stored somewhere within the facility and accessible to staff, but out of the patients’ reach. These items are often bulky and facilities often don't have adequate and accessible storage. Storage for patient belongings is often a luxury rather than a requirement for facilities that are out of space. Patient storage often gets relegated to the soiled utility room or a closet off the unit, making it hard for the staff to track which items belong to which patients.

Patients often become fixated on their personal belongings or might need to retrieve a forgotten personal item, requiring staff to dedicate patient-care time to retrieving patient belongings.

While designing a facility in Delaware, a project designer came up with a solution that solved the staff’s issues, relieved some of the patients’ anxieties and utilized leftover space created by patient bathrooms nested between two semi-private rooms. The designer implemented locked storage lockers for personal belongings that are adjacent to the bedrooms, just outside the doors, so that the patients’ belongings are not far from reach or visibility.

When a patient arrives, their belongings are put into the storage locker and staff can show the patients their belongings to alleviate the stress caused by fixating on a bag or other personal items stored off-unit. The lockers operate on the same key so staff only need to carry one key and the lockers themselves are made of durable resin panels that will absorb impact and are virtually indestructible. Since the lockers are in patient areas, the handles are ligature-proof.                                                                                    

Designing the entertainment center

In behavioral health units, the television is often a source of frustration and a source of incidents between patients vying to choose the program to watch. The Entertainment Center can also be a source of normalcy and calming for patients. In either case, the television is an appliance that needs to be protected in an environment where the walls, furniture and other fixtures might be the target of patient aggression. In order to protect the television in a recent behavior health project, a designer devised a custom cabinet that is flush with the wall and provides a clear protective cover. The screen is almost invisible when the television is off.

Below the TV is locked cabinet for the storage of DVDs and games as well as protection of other TV components. The cover and frame are hinged at the top and secured at the base into the bottom cabinet with locks concealed in the lower cabinet. Keys are available to staff and maintenance personnel. 

When designing such a cabinet, all too often being able to see and hear the TV is forgotten. We have seen many solutions that require holes to be drilled in the cover to allow patients to hear the television. In order to keep the shield a continuous barrier, the designer installed a ligature-safe ceiling-mounted speaker above the seating area, so that all the patients can hear, not just the ones closest to the TV. The cabinet, like the lockers, is made from a resin panel material which doesn't absorb moisture and has finished edges. 

It is often the simple details that can create large impact in the lives of patients and staff in behavior health facilities.

Joseph Doherty, AIA, LEED AP, Lean Green Belt, is Principal and Studio Director at Array Architects. He can be reached at For more information visit