“To bring order out of chaos” – that’s the mission statement of one Pam Houston, RA, EDAC, CPL’s first dedicated Healthcare Planner.
A technical subject matter expert, her experience covers the full spectrum of healthcare-related facilities, and she serves as an excellent source of information regarding the industry’s current trends, data and best practices.
Houston joined CPL in January 2021 and has since effectuated her mission statement by coordinating with national healthcare clients to develop a firm understanding of their goals, identify potential roadblocks and brainstorm creative solutions. When necessary, she arranges vision sessions – meetings with hospital administrators, doctors, nurses and other professionals – to discuss each project’s unique trajectory, affording the staff opportunities to voice their individual needs and priorities.
“I feel like good listening skills are number one. You have to be able to listen to clients and ask them the right questions. That’s really key,” she explained. “Those sessions often lead to a more big-picture way of thinking than most people are accustomed to.”
Working out of the firm’s Raleigh, NC office, Houston tackles the early phases of some of CPL’s largest awards, reviewing codes to ensure that plans adhere to all necessary guidelines and advancing health and wellness through collaborative design.
One of her current assignments involves intricate planning for the Care Tower at Wake Forest Baptist Health, referred to as “Project East.” She’s responsible for designing the intensive care unit, which will encompass two floors of a potentially ten-story building, and is currently analyzing the program, or the list of spaces that need to be included in the design. Her primary objective is to ensure the spaces are well-suited for both the patients and staff members who will utilize them daily.
“If we can plan to make these spaces more efficient by providing creative solutions that help hospital staff do their jobs and give extraordinary care to patients – to me, that’s very rewarding,” Houston said.
Although becoming an architect was a childhood dream of hers, Houston initially pursued a career in the publishing industry. She enrolled at The George Washington University, graduating cum laude with a degree in art history and a minor in visual communications, and proceeded to work for the American Society of Landscape Architects for several years, volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in her free time. It was during this period that she realized she still wanted to be an architect.
Determined, she enrolled in night calculus classes and assembled a portfolio to apply to North Carolina State University, where she earned her Master of Architecture and launched her healthcare planning career. Her first project involved design for a neonatal intensive care unit and nursery at a hospital in the Raleigh area; she later went on to provide design and inspection services for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Health Service Regulation (NC DHHS DHSR), where she was commended for carrying and executing more than double her expected workload.
“I really felt like I was making a positive difference in the world, and the challenge of the codes and all of the requirements was something that I enjoyed consuming,” Houston said of working in the healthcare practice following graduation. “I’ve stayed in healthcare for almost 20 years.”
In addition to her almost two decades of experience, Houston holds Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC) licensure with The Center for Health Design. Licensure is awarded to individuals who apply evidence-based research to their architectural design methodologies to significantly contribute to the health, safety and wellbeing of their clients.
“It’s evidence-based research that has resulted in us knowing that a view outside can make you feel less pain and lead to a quicker discharge than a room with no window, or a window to a brick wall,” Houston said. “So EDAC is taking, in my opinion, what we think of as ‘best practice’ and really trying to put a bit of scientific information behind it.”
Thus far, one of her favorite projects has been the Patient Unit Addition Study for Vidant Health, a hospital system in Washington, NC, which allowed her to bring her EDAC to the table with the creation of a presentation that helped the owner understand the benefits of universal patient rooms and their impact on staff.
Houston is also a yellow belt certified by Lean Six Sigma, an organization that recognizes professionals who are “skilled in identifying risks, errors or defects in a business process and removing them.” She describes the program as a system for doing things efficiently, which dovetails into her dedicated nature.
As a practice specialist with a talent for building strong interpersonal connections, Houston serves as a reliable resource for many of the firm’s healthcare assignments. “I have a lot of passion for and experience in healthcare planning, so it’s easy for me to quickly jump in and provide assistance,” Houston said. “I’m always invigorated by an opportunity to join forces with different project teams.”
“Pam brings to us a long career in diversified healthcare and great insight as to how we can improve our practices,” said Adam Chahulski, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Principal Architect in CPL’s Charlotte, NC office. “We are all about collaboration, and she assists not only our team members in North Carolina, but those across the states as well. She has been fantastic to work with, and I encourage anyone seeking guidance for the healthcare practice to reach out to her.”
When asked what she most enjoys about her role, Houston highlighted her core duties and CPL’s unified work environment.
“I appreciate being able to focus solely on the planning aspect of healthcare projects because that’s who I am, someone who plans ahead,” she said, adding, “I also appreciate the people I work with. The teams here are multi-disciplined, and we communicate across offices. It doesn’t matter how far apart you are, or what you specialize in – you get to work with everyone, and it’s been really fabulous.”