As construction of the new General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital progresses, the team heading up the design of the new facility is using virtual reality technologies to gain feedback on their plans from medical experts here.

For a week in September, representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, JE Dunn Construction, RLF Architects, the Defense Health Agency and the Health Facilities Planning Agency hosted GLWACH Soldiers and civilians at a warehouse in St. Robert, where physical and virtual hospital room mock-ups were built.

According to JE Dunn Construction representative Tommy Turner, the mock-ups allow visitors and reviewers to “walk” the new facility before it is constructed.

“This mock-up phase is a crucial piece in understanding the needs of departments and the coordination with the other spaces and equipment,” he said. “Medical professionals are able to comment on locations of medical gas outlets, door locations and sizes, and numerous other design decisions that could impact comfort and operation in the new space.”

Turner said facsimile medical equipment was made from foam to provide a full-scale, touch-and-feel review.

“These mock-ups are temporary spaces designed to replicate the final product for the review of space planning, patient flow, medical equipment selections and overall function,” he added. “This process is a culmination of many lessons learned … to ensure that only the best design practices, detailing and equipment selections are used.”

GLWACH Commander Col. Aaron Pitney toured the physical and virtual mock-ups and said it was helpful to understand — especially from the patient’s perspective — how people will move through the hospital for outpatient care.

“It was very encouraging to see how much natural light the new hospital will have,” he added. “The rooms are modern, private and have so many useful upgrades. The Defense Health Agency team along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took all of our feedback — I was especially appreciative of our GLWACH staff who took the time to provide clinical input to the facility. That level of integration will benefit patients and our staff, as well.”

What couldn’t be physically created at the warehouse was built into the virtual reality mock-up, which demonstrated everything from medical equipment to chairs in waiting areas.

Turner said the $295 million GLWACH construction project is the first Department of Defense medical design-build contract to require virtual reality.

“Through a combination of the VR headset and 3D modeling, the guesswork of interpreting 2D construction drawings is removed,” Turner said. “The users feel as though they are in the building, which allows the medical professionals to quickly understand the end product that will be delivered. This tool has proven extremely useful in developing the design details of this project.”

Pitney called the VR experience “realistic.”

“If you turned your head in one way or the other, you would see a hallway, clinic or treatment room from a different perspective,” he said. “It was so realistic that I had to close my eyes when the operator moved me from one location to another — you can get a little motion sick if you’re not careful.”

Turner said the collected feedback is being reviewed by the project delivery team and will be taken into consideration in the final design.

“The innovation of the full-scale mock-ups, virtual reality and facsimile equipment has been useful to the project delivery team and hospital staff in making certain the finished product will serve the region with world-class health care,” Turner said.

The new hospital will be located on 52 acres just northeast of the existing General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital. Facilities to be constructed include a 235,400-square-foot hospital, 193,300-squarefoot clinic, central utility plant, emergency back-up generators, five-bay ambulance garage, helipad and supporting facilities.

The design and construction of the hospital campus should take about four years, with an expected occupancy date in autumn 2024. Once complete, the existing hospital will be demolished.

Renovation of the existing optical fabrication lab and parking improvements are slated to follow.