How To Create Spaces That Prioritize The Well-being Of Patients And Staff In Behavioral Health Care Facilities

Creating safe and therapeutic environments within behavioral healthcare facilities is of paramount importance, and the design of institutional furniture plays a crucial role in achieving this goal. Safety features integrated into behavioral healthcare furniture can help prevent self-harm and harm to others, ensuring the well-being of both patients and staff. In this article, we will explore essential safety features that should be incorporated into furniture designed for behavioral healthcare settings, including behavioral health care facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and residential treatment centers.

1. Anti-Ligature Design:

One of the primary safety considerations in behavioral healthcare furniture is the prevention of ligature points, and by extension, the prevention of patient suicide attempts. Anti-ligature design involves eliminating or minimizing attachment points that could be used for self-harm. A ligature point is anything that could be used to attach a rope or other material (such as a cord, towel, rolled or torn sheet) for the purpose of strangulation.  Therapeutic furniture with rounded edges, smooth surfaces, and concealed or tamper-resistant hardware can significantly reduce the risk of ligature incidents.  This is critical when there is a risk of patient suicide.

2. Sturdy Construction:

Behavioral healthcare settings often experience high levels of activity and potential abuse of institutional furniture. Therefore, it is crucial that the furniture is constructed with durable and sturdy materials. Robust materials and construction methods can prevent breakage and ensure that the furniture remains intact under challenging conditions and intensive use.

3. Tamper-Resistant Fasteners:

Tamper-resistant fasteners and hardware are essential components of safe behavioral healthcare furniture. These features prevent individuals from disassembling or modifying the furniture in ways that could pose a risk to themselves or others. Using specialized fasteners that require specific tools for removal adds an extra layer of security.

4. Weighted and Fixed Furniture:

Furniture that is heavy or securely fixed to the floor can reduce the risk of harm by preventing individuals from moving it, tipping it over, or attempting to throw it. Weighted or anchored furniture, such as cabinets and wardrobes, adds stability and minimizes the potential for the furniture to be used as a tool for self-harm.  Some tables and chairs can be weighted down with sand fill.

5. Soft and Impact-Resistant Materials:

Choosing materials that are soft, impact-resistant, and free from sharp edges is crucial in preventing injuries. Soft, anti-bacterial upholstery and foam padding can be applied to furniture surfaces to reduce the severity of injuries in case of accidental collisions or falls.

6.Clear Lines of Sight:

 Ensuring clear lines of sight is essential for staff to monitor patients and respond quickly in case of emergencies. Furniture should be arranged to provide unobstructed views, and designs should avoid creating hidden spaces that could compromise supervision.

7. Therapeutic Design Elements:

Integrating therapeutic design elements into furniture can contribute to a calming and supportive environment. For example, rounded corners and warm, non-institutional colors can enhance the overall atmosphere while maintaining a focus on safety. Many facilities choose to design a normative environment rather than an unnecessarily cold institutional setting.

8. Collapsible Features:

In certain situations, it may be necessary for furniture to have collapsible features that can be activated in emergencies. Collapsible seating or beds can be designed to minimize the risk of entrapment and facilitate quick response by healthcare providers.

9. Electronic Monitoring Systems:

Technology can play a role in enhancing safety features. Electronic monitoring systems, such as sensors and alarms embedded in furniture, can alert staff to any irregular or potentially dangerous behavior, allowing for swift intervention.

Incorporating some or all of these safety features into behavioral healthcare furniture is vital for creating spaces that prioritize the well-being of patients and staff.  By combining anti-ligature design, sturdy construction, tamper-resistant fasteners, weighted and fixed features, proper materials, clear lines of sight, therapeutic design elements, and in some cases collapsible features and electronic monitoring systems, designers can contribute to the creation of environments that promote healing and safety within behavioral healthcare facilities. Striking a balance between safety and therapeutic design is crucial to achieving the overarching goal of supporting individuals on their path to recovery in a secure and nurturing setting in any behavioral health care facility, psychiatric hospital, residential treatment center or related type of facility.