At 16,911 square-feet, Pet Wellness and Urgent Care Center in Marion, Illinois, is comprised of about 10,000 square-feet of hospital and 7,000 square-feet dedicated to the lodge, day camp, and grooming. This state-of-the-art facility includes such features as a separate dog and cat exam/waiting area, aviary, reptile treatment area, two large dog suites for higher-end boarding, isolation areas for sick dogs with completely separate play area, cat isolation area with exam isolation room, dog daycare/indoor play area, grooming facility, water therapy with water treadmill, dog waiting and drying area, offices, ER exam and grieving (separate entrance for after-hours visits), lab, radiology, ultrasound and CT rooms, surgery prep room, dentistry area, and ICU kennel area!
Dr. J. Craig Smith, DVM and his wife Cera purchased the practice in 2003 and expanded the footprint to include locations in Marion, Paducah, KY, and Thompsonville, IL. The primary location in Marion treats small animals such as dog, cats, exotics, and the occasional pot-bellied pig. The satellite locations are a mixed practice of livestock, horses, and small animals.
“We really strive to do the best we can for every pet, every time,” said Dr. Smith. “We make sure to maximize the opportunity to share information about health care to the client at each visit. This ensures they can make educated decisions about the care of their pet, both from a medical standpoint and a financial standpoint.”
Everything is with the patient and client in mind, and that is most certainly evident in the design of the building.
“It does not look necessarily like a medical facility,” said Dr. Smith. “When I drive up to the front, I feel like I’m going to a lodge in the mountains where there’s going to be some rest and relaxation. We wanted to incorporate some previously used product, so the interior wood and sheet metal in the waiting areas were all reclaimed from buildings here in southern Illinois. It allowed us to bring some nostalgia and also contributes to the overall goal of having a soft, warm place you want to be in. The appearance, the design, the textures, everything that went into the building you see today, all had thought and purpose behind them. Our first goal is to make sure that the visit here is stress-free as possible for both the client and the patient. We’ve done things to mitigate odor and prevent cross-contamination between different species. We’ve developed exam rooms and treatment rooms specifically for cats, that are separate from the dogs, and that extends to our hospitalization as well.”
“The design objectives were first and foremost patient care, patient comfort, and ultimately client comfort. We want the client to be at ease. Sometimes if the client perceives stress about the pet’s visit, they will not make that appointment, or they may not come for that progress exam because they perceive it as being a stressful event. As protective pet parents they want to eliminate that. I felt like there was a need to address that from the get-go. When a client comes, we want those pets to run in the front door, not have to be pulled on a leash. We want them to feel like they are in the best place possible to take care of their pet.”
The design of the building is in somewhat of a diamond shape in that the cat and dog exam rooms are on opposite sides of that diamond. There are two hallways that flow to a common laboratory area and the treatment areas that are species-specific.
“The design eliminates redundancy and traveling back and forth from one area to another,” said Dr. Smith. “We know when that call comes back from reception that we have a feline patient, the technician knows to go to the waiting room on that side of the building and bring the client into the room to initiate the visit. Then he or she travels easily back to the common lab/treatment area that puts them in contact with other technicians and vet assistants. It also keeps the doctor in the loop, so they know where they need to be next. It allows the doctor to leverage their time better and improve efficiency.”
Odor control was a critical aspect of the design process. “I told Morton that the number one thing I did not want is to have odor in the building. We didn’t want odors communicating from one side of the building to the other. To remedy that, multiple heat and air systems were installed that don’t communicate with each other. They have their own supply and return. In some instances, such as the hospital wards, the exhaust fans directly exhaust to the outside. Our isolation unit is strictly isolated as far as both location and the heat and air system, so there’s no opportunity for contamination with odor or disease.”
With a dog day camp and boarding facility attached to the hospital, noise reduction was also a priority.
“Noise is controlled in a variety of things—the textures on the wall, the flooring, and the fixtures in the building. We also have specific types of sound barrier thresholds that close when the door closes. In addition, the lodge features a special double-wall that was designed and constructed by Morton. It works extremely well. You can not hear any sounds from there sitting in the reception area.”
Throughout the building, they have a central wet/dry vac system that allows them to spray disinfectant on the floor and then rinse and vacuum with the same unit, ensuring the cleanest environment possible for patients. Another must-have was an impervious floor with an epoxy coating throughout the building, thereby preventing disease from settling into crooks and crevices and creating problems later.
Security for the Pet Wellness Center staff was also a purposeful and thoughtful addition to the building’s amenities.
“We knew that over time, we were going to become a 24-hour facility. With that brings some security issues for our staff. We designed the building so the public could have limited access in the emergency hours, and the staff can use a card swipe to get through a door quickly for patient care. The entry for the emergency side has a vestibule so clients can get in out of the weather and use the phone by the door to enter. In addition, the pharmacy is lockable and has restricted access to it. We have multiple double-locking cabinets around the facility where we have supplies easily accessible for patient care, but under restriction to conform to state and federal law. Our staff wear panic buttons, so if they feel threatened for any reason, they can push the button and it will call 911. Lastly, we are the only lodge facility, that I’m aware of, in southern Illinois that has a central sprinkler system and fire alarm system. This pre-empts the new law that is going into effect in January that requires boarding facilities to have that.”
When they were in the designing phase, the square footage was never the goal. “I knew I wanted multiple, separate exam rooms,” said Dr. Smith. “I wanted the work areas to be centrally located and easily accessible from the exam rooms. The square footage just evolved from there. We’ve designed this facility to where it can be a tertiary referral center. We can grow for 15-20 years. We can expand hours with more doctors, take care of more patients and clients.”
Dr. Smith’s advice for fellow veterinarians looking to build a new facility?
“You need a good architect and you need a good contractor. You have to have a relationship there to work through things that come up. That’s paramount and Morton accomplished that for us. Do as much research as possible. I would certainly advise reaching out to someone that’s recently done construction so they can share what challenges they encountered and how they resolved those. It’s important to go and look at vet facilities. We started having ideas to build this hospital in 2008 or 2009, and we started writing things down. We didn’t purchase the property until 2014. Then it was a year of design, and contractor selection. In that timeframe, everywhere that we traveled for business or pleasure, we were looking for construction ideas, decorating ideas, and design ideas. I had 30-plus years of experience by the time I started this. If you don’t have that experience, you’ll have to call in someone else to get some input.”
“My overall experience with Morton was a positive one. I grew up in the construction business and I had an eye for quality. When I saw Morton’s quality, I knew what I wanted. In addition to their product, I developed a relationship and was comfortable with their people.”
Dr. Smith is available to provide consulting services to any veterinarian looking to build a new hospital or clinic. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com.
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