When there's no place like homePublished on May 5, 2014

  • Rayana plays on the floor gaming system

  • Magalie with mom Jessica Richard

  • Cheerful changes

It's not a place that any parent or child wants to call home. But the oncology ward of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is, in fact, a home environment to young people battling cancer. And for many, like nine-year-old Rayana Ege, that means moving in and staying a while. 

However, with its tired, drab walls and an outdated electrical system, staff at CHEO recognized the need for a revamp of the oncology ward's 4 North wing. Perhaps more importantly, the slightly grungy environment contributed to a gloomy feeling.

Parkin Architects was brought in to do the design work to update 4 North, and their interior designer Chantal Blatti was tasked with creating a bright, colourful, engaging space. Her instructions were to add vibrancy and stay within budget! 

First came the concept, which was inspired by the fact that CHEO becomes home to its young patients. "I was thinking of the kids and realized the hospital is their home, their city, and I tried to individualize their space to make it feel like their own. Each room has a mailbox outside and different colour door panel outside of each door frame for some individuality," explains Chantal of the thought process behind creating a village-like atmosphere on 4 North. 

The village is a concept that is embraced by both staff and patients who have fun with the little things that mean so much, like the mailboxes. Rayana smiles brightly remembering how she and her seven-year-old cousin, who was in hospital battling the same acute myeloid leukemia, exchanged letters and cards with each other during their stay. "It was fun to put mail in her mailbox and she would put cards in mine." 

An added challenge for the renovation team was to come up with bright, fun, engaging activities that were easily sanitized. One of the more ingenious elements is the GroundFX flooring system by GestureTek. Gaming images are projected on to the floor so there are no consoles or devices to sanitize; cleaning is as simple as mopping the floor. Both staff and patients take play breaks and everyone has a favourite game that pops up on a rotation system - it's one that Rayana knows so well she can tell when her favourite popcorn game is coming up!  

The rest of the renovation was less high- tech and more about using colour and shapes to create the vibrant, uplifting atmosphere that hospital staff and parents were seeking. The request for bright colours made the project appealing to Chantal, who embraces the power of colour. "It was a fun project to work on because they were willing to go with the brighter colours and to work with our creative suggestions." 

While an engaging space and vibrancy was the desired outcome, the idea of calm, soothing areas for parent/child quiet time was also a crucial element. Nooks and alcove space were maximized to create retreat-like atmospheres where patients and parents could escape, feeling like they have left the ward, while still remaining within the unit. Patients, like spirited three-year-old Magalie can ramp up the fun factor in the playroom, yet easily find some quiet reading time with mom, in a restful nook just around the corner from the central nursing station. 

For the staff, the renovation has brought comfort knowing their visitors can enjoy a difficult time a little more easily. But for the parents of children moving in, the renovation has made a dramatic difference. Rayana's mom Faduma Hassan sums it up simply, "You see it in the spirit of the kids - it's a fun place to be. It looks cleaner; the colours make the kids more comfortable. It's so much nicer now for the oncology kids who have to come back again and again - this place becomes part of your home." 

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