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Hospital Healthcare Europe

‘Toblerone of glass’ is a contender for the title of Europe’s smartest hospital


20 July, 2010  

More airport terminal in appearance than many people’s idea of a hospital, the stunning triangular ‘greenhouse’ that is the new hospital in Mestre, near Venice, combines green credentials with latest technology and patient-friendly design

Lorena Tonarelli
Healthcare writer

Today’s concept of hospital planning involves much more than offering buildings where patients receive effective medical care. Providing pleasant and comfortable environments that enhance the patients’ experience and make them feel welcome and safe is equally important. This article describes one of the first examples in Europe of how to achieve this successfully, by combining high-quality care, delivered through skilled professionals and state-of-the-art technology, with patient-friendly and green hospital design.
Developed by the architects Alberto Altieri and Emilio Ambasz, the new hospital of Mestre, near Venice, Italy, forges new boundaries in hospital design. It bears no resemblance to the cold and aseptic hospitals of old. There are no narrow, dark corridors permeated with the stinging smell of disinfectants and no institutional décor. It is more like an ultra-modern shopping centre –  bright and airy, brimming with life and colours..
The hospital is called Ospedale dell’Angelo (The Angel’s Hospital). It features an impressive five-floor, oblique glass façade at the front and a slope of magnificent green terraces at the back, both covering the entire length of the building.
The glass façade – which is heat- and sound-insulating and is open both at the top and the base to ensure natural ventilation and prevent condensation build-up – encloses a large entrance hall that works as the hospital’s reception area. This is flooded with natural light all year round and has, among other things, shops, restaurants, bars, an auditorium and an exotic garden, which give patients, visitors and staff plenty of opportunities for socialising, relaxing and entertaining.

The wards
Overlooking the hall through floor-to-ceiling windows are six floors of wards that overhang each other, creating a cascade of terraces staggered at intervals of 2.5 metres.
Dr Onofrio Lamanna, the hospital’s medical director, told Hospital Healthcare Europe: “One of the elements that make this hospital truly unique is that patients with all sorts of conditions are accommodated in the same ward, even though their diagnoses belong to different medical specialties.”

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Each ward accommodates approximately 60 patients in rooms that have either one or two beds. There are 350 rooms in total, all of which offer a spectacular view over the green terraces at the back of the building, and of the park and the hills beyond. This is not just for aesthetic reasons, but also to allow patients and staff alike to enjoy the reassuring and invigorating feeling of being at one with nature.

The technological centre
Below the wards and the reception area, on the ground floor and in the basement, is the technological centre, with the operating theatres and the units for diagnostic and treatment services. Staffed with highly-qualified and experienced medical and technical professionals, this area is the hospital’s operating core, featuring state-of-the art technology and instrumentation, for which the two major suppliers are Philips and Siemens.
“All the 16 inpatient operating theatres of the hospital are situated in this easily accessible area of the building,” Dr Lamanna explained. “Next to it is a completely independent day surgery unit with dedicated beds and operating theatres. All the angiographic procedures are performed in the technological centre, which also includes a comprehensive endoscopy unit, where staff perform gastrointestinal, pulmonary, and neuro-endoscopy procedures. This is different from the majority of hospitals in Italy, which normally have only one endoscopy unit.”
One of the strengths of the technology centre is a fully equipped imaging unit, delivering high-quality diagnostic services, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and multi-slice computed tomography (CT). Dr Lamanna said the diagnostic imaging unit at the new Mestre Hospital is, in fact, a state-of-the art centre. This consists, among other things, of:

  • Two 64-slice CT scanners.
  • Two 1.5T MRI scanners.
  • Two gamma cameras.

Flood proof
The fact that all the high-technology equipment is concentrated in one place on the ground floor and in the basement has been criticised by some, who say that it could be at risk of damage, given that Mestre and surrounding areas are historically prone to flooding. Approximately €25m has been spent in new medical equipment, and these, they say, could easily go to waste in the event of flood.
“Our new hospital has no such problems, because it was built on a higher ground than the town of Mestre and the old hospital,” Dr Lamanna said.
“Furthermore, we have a drainage system, that has been specifically designed to protect the building from flooding. Very recently, we had persistent, heavy rain, which has flooded part of the town, including the whole area where the old hospital used to be, but not the new hospital. At the moment, this is the safest place of the town.”

Part of the community’s life
The hospital is not just in a safe location. It is set in a pleasant place for people to be – “a 260,000-square-metre natural green open space with trees, hills and two lakes, which work as reservoirs in case of fire,” Dr Lamanna explained. Also in the park is ‘La Banca dell’Occhio’ (Eye Bank) – the first centre in Europe for the distribution and collection of tissue for corneal transplants, and the only centre in the world that produces epithelial stem cell cultures.
 “The park, the hospital, and La Banca dell’Occhio are all conveniently located near one of the largest Mestre’s commercial areas, which is a popular destination for those who want to do shopping. Three new main access roads and the rail service connect the hospital with the town centre, and a new tram line will be ready soon,” he continued. “For those who don’t want to use the car or the train, the hospital can be reached by bicycle or on foot, in just 15 or 30 minutes respectively.”

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A first ‘Project Financing’ experience for Italy
The new hospital of Mestre is the first Italian healthcare initiative funded through the ‘Project Financing’ scheme – a novel system involving a public-private partnership framework. This is something that has never been tried before in Italy, where all healthcare projects are normally financed by the State. 
Lammana said: “A total of €270m has been spent on the realisation of the new hospital. Of these, €100m came from the Italian Ministry of Health at the end of the 1990s – €60m from the state’s funds and €40m from the sale of the old hospital and other proprieties. The remainder €170m came from private agencies, such as Astaldi, Gemmo, Mantovani, Mattioli, Cofathec and Studio Altieri.” Now, all the services related to the efficient functioning of the hospital are managed by these private contributors, who hope to generate a return on their initial investment.
Before the hospital was built, some had doubts about the way in which it was financed. Dr Lamanna was one of them. “Initially, I was a sceptic. I thought that a public-private partnership was not the best way to go. But, then, the facts changed my opinion. I have seen this hospital – a highly efficient, cutting-edge model for hospital buildings that delivers excellent care whilst retaining a sense of home and community – built in just four years, from 2004 to 2008, and activated in 50 days; something unthinkable without the participation in the project of private investors.”
“The realisation of the new Mestre hospital has been the best thing I have seen in all my career.”