Just Read: The WELL Building Standard – promoting health for the people inside

These are the things that doctors with Total Health in their job title keep up to date on 🙂 .

Given that humans spend 90% of their time in buildings, it’s easy to recognize that building designers and developers may have a lot more influence on our health than doctors do, and so why shouldn’t we leverage each other?

WELL is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

The standard is a 238 page, well referenced, multidisciplinary-developed and reviewed (including physicians) document that describes 7 concepts composed of 102 features that impact the “health, comfort, knowledge” of building occupants. You can see as you review it how each feature if thought through can make a difference in a building occupant’s lives (and buildings can be thought of generically, from hotels to health care).

From ventilation, to food choices, to mental health, I found myself contemplating all the decisions that can possibly made about the environments we inhabit that can have a huge impact on us. Great to see them enumerated and explained here.

This includes things like thermal comfort, not just in accurate temperature control, but with temperature variability and “free address” for workers to find their right zone. For me, this would handle the, “It’s so cold in here I can’t even think” syndrome. Same goes for acoustics, both in noise dampening, but also sound masking – to allow for privacy.

2016.02 Gendered Bathrooms New Hampshire1801
A building feature that shouldn’t exist in a healthy built environment. Gendered Bathrooms – still allowed in New Hampshire (View on Flickr.com)

From my read, there’s also room for innovation and incremental improvement. One thing that I’m aware of that’s an impediment to health is gender segregated restrooms (aka “Men’s” and “Women’s” rooms). These shouldn’t exist anymore, and it was a jolting reminder that they still exist on my recent trip to New Hampshire, since these kinds of bathrooms are no longer legal in Washington, DC (see: Why doctors should care about gender neutral restrooms : health, safety, and equality, in Washington, DC)

WELL is pretty new, and it connects to LEED, which, on my last poll of pretty innovative doctors, doesn’t have a lot of name recognition (see: MakerDocsDC: Introducing doctors to green building and LEED at USGBC World Headquarters). But both should. Which is why I’m writing a blog post about it, since I do live in the future.

At Kaiser Permanente, and actually in a lot of leading edge health systems, there’s pretty good recognition of the importance of the built environment for health, both in the buildings we build, and the buildings built where our patients live, work, learn, and play.

For us, it really is in our DNA. Our founder, Sidney Garfield, MD, wanted to be an architect before he became a doctor, and was passionate about design and the facilities in which he cared for patients. See: Why a health system cares about the buildings it doesn’t build: Moderating AIA-DC Panel 10/8/14.

Check out this newsreel from 1953, when his way-ahead-of-his-time hospital in Walnut Creek opened. You’re going to see some things that are most definitely not allowed in the WELL standard today (hint, the waiting room), and also some things that the rest of health care has yet to embrace – the connection to nature.

I have not yet worked in a WELL certified environment, but I hope to … very soon. Watch this space.

Credit to Whitney Austin Gray, PhD for lighting the fire (or should I say, igniting the LED) – she’s a doctor in design that’s improving health. Leveraging each other….

Whitney Austin Gray at Center for Total Health 03020
Whitney Austin Gray at Center for Total Health 03020 (View on Flickr.com)

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