Building additional mental health capacity in Victoria

Victoria, Australia

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As part of the Victorian Government’s investment to improve mental healthcare, the Pathway to 144 (P144) Bed Expansion project will create additional capacity for mental health services across four existing facilities – the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH), Northern Hospital, Sunshine Hospital and McKellar Centre. These facilities were designed to support contemporary approaches to treatment, care, and support of mental health patients.

Working with our client, the Victorian Health Building Authority and relevant health agencies, AECOM delivered multidisciplinary design and consultancy services from site selection and master planning to full design, construction, and commissioning. Our team provided mechanical, electrical, facades, fire protection, hydraulics, Environmentally Sustainable Design, ICT and communications, security, audio-visual and acoustics services.

Modular construction for fast-tracked delivery

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System illuminated the urgent need to increase mental health beds to support community demand. With considerable pressure to increase support as quickly as possible, the project’s timeframes for practical completion were fast-tracked. Construction of the first facility at the McKellar Centre was completed in mid-2022, approximately 18 months after the funding announcement. To accelerate delivery, modular construction methodologies were used, except for the RMH site, which involves a refurbishment within the existing building footprint.

The three modular sites have involved different contractors to meet construction timelines and overcome production limitations. To achieve modular construction methodology requirements, the team considered the integration requirements of the contractors and those of the technical disciplines across all design elements and multiple consultant teams.

Recovery-focused design

There are unique sensitivities and pressure points when designing mental health facilities, and these must be understood to deliver contemporary facilities that meet the needs of the health service and consumers. The P144 project was delivered through a co-design process, prioritising input from those with lived experience, including consumers, families, carers, and staff. Many identified elements were carried through to delivery, such as the ability for consumers to control their environment with ventilation and lighting and access to technology for education and connection to the community. The project sets a new bar for recovery-focused care with a focus on salutogenic design principles, which prioritise elements that support health and well-being, such as circadian rhythm lighting, biophilic materials, and thermal and acoustic comfort.

Patients will benefit from these facilities in 2023, with two of the four facilities completed by the end of 2022.

Award: Commendation for interior architecture – 2023 National Architecture Awards Program – Australian Institute of Architects