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Deeper Look: D’Youville’s West Side Beacon of Hope

One of the more dynamic projects set to open in Buffalo during the year ahead is the D’Youville College Health Professions Hub. Located in the heart of Buffalo’s West Side community, the project will improve community access to healthcare services, introduce educational opportunities focused on breaking cycles of chronic illness, and connect area students with in-demand jobs.

Billed as a “first-of-its-kind” health center, the Hub offers innovative learning spaces, a workforce center, extensive virtual training resources, a demonstration kitchen, neighborhood cafe, public art, a pharmacy, rehabilitation and wellness center, and a clinic offering primary care. Upon opening in early 2021, the project will double the number of health students D’Youville graduates annually and help address the anticipated critical shortage of 10,000+ health professionals our region is expected to face come 2024.

The project is already being hailed by national media like Next City and Architect’s Newspaper for its design and community value. With The Hub in its closing stretch, we caught up with D’Youville President Lorrie Clemo and CannonDesign Principal Michael Tunkey for a deeper look.

Dr. Clemo, in talking about the Health Professions Hub, I’ve heard you call it a Moonshot project. Could you elaborate on that idea?

Dr. Clemo: This project will build on important progress for Buffalo’s West Side, one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the country. I believe there are more than 60 different languages spoken in the local school system, due to the number of immigrants and refugees who call this neighborhood home.

That diversity is incredible, but it’s woefully underserved. The community has issues with poverty (60% poverty rate); food insecurity, education resources to name just a few. Also, while nearly half of all adults in America have one or more chronic health conditions, those disease rates are even higher in the West Side of Buffalo. Health outcomes are statistically worse in the Buffalo region than other areas of New York State. Plus, Buffalo has a looming talent shortage in the medical field.

The Hub is a moonshot project because it can improve all these conditions at once. It almost doubles the number of health professionals D’youville will graduate annually, it provides needed healthcare services to the community, it can help students take jobs and support their families with living wages, it reduces our staffing shortages. A project with this many meaningful goals is not easy, it’s a moonshot. I’m so grateful to everyone who has helped make it a reality.

That makes sense, I would assume engaging the community is key to creating a building that can help them?

Mike Tunkey: Yes, 100 percent. Working with D’Youville’s entire leadership team, our team at CannonDesign invested an incredible amount of time engaging stakeholders for this project. Students, faculty, staff, immediate community neighbors, regional health leaders and more, we held dozens of meetings ranging from intimate small room discussions to assemblies in gymnasiums. Our team took the time for all of them. This is a building designed not just for its community, but truly by its community.

These sessions helped us develop a framework of Care, Comprehend and Connect that guided the building’s ultimate purpose and how it would align with the D’Youville mission. In other meetings, we worked out tactical aspects around material choices, public art inclusion and more. We approached every conversation as a chance to surface ideas and connect. Designing with the community in this way not only makes our work stronger, but also represents a paradigm shift in how we originate and prototype ideas at the community scale.

Are there any real breakthrough spaces in the building we should talk about?

Dr. Clemo: The Hub will be where we graduate the next generation of nurses and advanced practice providers such as Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners for Buffalo and this country. And, D’Youville knows we must graduate nurses and other highly trained health professionals ready to thrive in a changing world. These health professionals will enter a workforce with high demand for their services, evolving roles as health systems shift to more team-based care models, and immense pressures from day-to-day realities and the threat of crisis like the current pandemic.

Understanding that complex reality, the Health Professions Hub is equipped with spaces and tools to help health professionals thrive in this shifting world. A perfect example is the building’s simulation center which is undoubtedly the most advanced in our region if not the country. The center is a high-tech transformer of space with a black box studio, walls that can be moved and repositioned by teachers and students to rapidly ideate and test new scenarios. This setting will help faculty immerse students in real-world scenarios that are directly applicable to the future emergency departments, operating rooms, home care and other health settings where they’ll someday work. It is also prepared for future forward training such as virtual reality simulations.

I’m glad you referenced the current pandemic. Do you think it will change how you educate medical professionals for the future?

Dr. Clemo: I certainly hope it does. As we move forward through and from the pandemic, we know the healthcare community must continue to deliver high-quality care. I think you’ll see increased focus on delivering consistently high-quality care to ALL patients. We have already begun to educate future health professionals today, with a strong culture focused on advancing social justice and health that will drive more equitable health outcomes. The pandemic has clearly identified gaps in this regard and certain communities have suffered much more than others.

From a design perspective, are there other things people should know about this building?

Mike Tunkey: There are two other points I think we should make.

First, D’Youville’s campus architecture has been remarkably “introverted” over time and the Health Professions Hub takes a different approach. This building sits right on the corner of Connecticut and West and is tangible evidence of the school’s openness to the community. The design relies on glass, public art, street-facing components to make the exterior porous with Buffalo’s West Side.

Those who pass by the building will see an area we’re calling “the hive” – designed with a honeycomb-like facade – where everything that’s highly activated and involves people mixing from different disciplines we’ll be visible.

Second, just to elaborate on the public art, the D’Youville team always had a strong vision of public art playing a role in defining the street-level experience for this project. We’ve worked with the Albright Knox Curator for Public Art Aaron Ott, and Buffalo-based Canadian artist-architects Julia Jamrozik and Coryn Kempster on a major public art component centered around the idea of play. Stitch Buffalo, a nonprofit focused on the economic advancement of refugee women, is also involved. We’re already exploring a second public art installation elsewhere in the building and more opportunities across campus.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Clemo: I would just reiterate how grateful we are to the community and everyone who has helped make this project happen. We’re going to be training our future healthcare leaders here. Everything from nurses to community health officials, patient navigators and more. We’re so proud of what this project represents and can’t wait for it to open early next year.

Written by WCPerspective


Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

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