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Cardboard operating suite works out kinks before construction starts

Cardboard operating suite works out kinks before construction starts

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GREENSBORO — Suppose you’re building something — say, a suite of operating rooms at a hospital.

You could sketch it out on drafting paper.

You could build a 3-D model with a computer program.

Or you can do what Cone Health did: create a full-scale model made completely of cardboard.

It’s a tryout of sorts, a way to work out the kinks in the $38 million remodel of Wesley Long Hospital before mortar is poured and the plaster is raised.

It all took place at a sprawling warehouse on Hines Chapel Road, which Cone Health is renting.

There, built out of giant panels of cardboard, is the new operating suite that will open at the hospital in the fall of 2018.

All 38,000 square feet of it.

The 10 identical operating rooms. The recovery area and isolation unit. The hallways and storage rooms.

They even sketched out where to put the “push plates” that open the doors, and the warmers that make those post-surgery blankets so toasty.


Here’s the convenient thing about cardboard: you can move it around. You can see, for instance, whether a full-size stretcher will fit through the operating room doors, or whether the halls are wide enough to maneuver that stretcher around the corners.

Better to sketch it out with cardboard than have to tear down concrete and plaster, said Paul Jeffrey, president of Wesley Long Hospital.

During traditional construction projects, the people who design the space won’t use the space or really understand how it needs to be used, Jeffrey said.

He said the people who do use it invariably ask: “Who built this? Why is this here? It doesn’t make sense.”

That’s exactly what they were trying to avoid.

Cone Health had a variety of employees walk through Cardboard City — surgeons, nurses, cleaning crews, people who work in the space.

They made recommendations about what would work and what wouldn’t.

Here’s an example: Nurses told project managers that the isolation unit needed to be on the other side of a hall.

So they changed the plans.

Sandra Caudle, the assistant director of Wesley Long’s operating rooms, said the staff has been energized by how much they’ve been included in the process.

She and Jeffrey said that was another intended effect of the cardboard mock up. They said they wanted the staff to know their opinions are valued.

“(Employees) feel engaged. They really are excited they have had input into all of this,” Caudle said.

Contact Margaret Moffett at (336) 373-7031, and follow @MargaretMoffett on Twitter.


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