Addressing the Special Needs of Specifying Hospital Showers

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Hospital administrators, designers and builders increasingly turn to fiberglass reinforced composite shower systems for ADA compliance, added safety, easier maintenance and cost savings

With a keen eye on cost containment and patient liability, hospital designers are finding new ways to address the need for patient comfort and safety while lowering construction and maintenance costs – most notably in the design and installation of hospital shower systems.

Traditionally, ceramic or porcelain tile-surround shower stalls have been in use in hospitals. However, there are a number of issues surrounding the tile and its alternative: pre-molded, fiberglass reinforced composite shower systems. The major concerns include patient safety, compliance with ADA access requirements, aesthetic requirements, and meeting today’s construction methods and standards – all while adhering to budget constraints.

“To accept that traditional tile shower enclosures are the best solution for new hospital installations or renovations means the assumption of costs, procedures and potential service problems that may otherwise be avoidable,” says Jon Franklin, Senior Project Architect and Vice President of FKP Architects, one of the nation’s leaders in healthcare facility architectural design.

A $354 million expansion and renovation of the Texas Children’s Hospital at Texas Medical Center in Houston, the nation’s largest pediatric facility, became a test bed for Franklin’s point of view. He was assigned the design of the hospital’s west tower expansion, a 15-story addition to the existing five-story hospital building. There were eight “bed” floors with 251 private patient rooms, many of which required one of four different shower designs.

“The best of today’s fiberglass shower units offer innovative design features and accessories that provide comfort and safety while assuring compliance with ADA standards,” says Franklin. “While the design aesthetics and ease of installation were also important factors, safety is paramount, and we found both were quite obtainable with fiberglass showers.”

Convinced that they could meet safety and ADA compliance requirements, as well as the Houston building codes, Franklin specified the Best Bath line of fiberglass shower systems made by Fiberglass Systems (http://www.best-bath.com).

Best Bath offers a line of “hospital-grade” fiberglass reinforced composite shower systems that come with 1/2-inch, heavy-duty plywood backing so that grab bars and other safety accessories can be securely attached. Unique to these hospital-grade shower modules is the increased structural integrity of the structure, made possible by a much more substantial laminate schedule and a total encapsulation of the plywood core. This lengthens the expected life of the shower systems substantially.

“I like their roll-in design that features a collapsible neoprene ‘water dam’ threshold that is wheelchair accessible, yet keeps the water in the shower,” says Franklin. “With some other designs we’d had trouble meeting the state requirements or had cleanup problems.”

The ability for fiberglass shower systems to offer a non-institutional appearance is an important plus to many architects and facility owners.

“At Texas Children’s Hospital there are provisions for Mom and Dad to come stay with the child,” Franklin says.” Because families would be staying there, we tried to get away from the institutional look as much as we could.”

Franklin was also impressed that he could get all the needed accessories including seats, grab bars, curtain bars and soap dishes from the same shower systems manufacturer.

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Jeff Mooney
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