They go together like ‘medical/dental’

Jim and Susan Morss have their architecture practice on Parfitt Way. - DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo
Jim and Susan Morss have their architecture practice on Parfitt Way.
— image credit: DOUGLAS CRIST/Staff Photo

As Kitsap County grows, so will its medical needs.

Which means that Jim and Susan Morss of Bainbridge Island expect to be busy in the years to come.

The couple are partners in Morss Medical Architects, the only Pacific Northwest firm dealing strictly with medical facilities. He creates the buildings, and she creates the interiors, working from their offices at 175 Parfitt Way.

They recently changed their name to Morss Medical Architecture from HF West Inc., the latter of which didn’t say much about their expertise, gleaned from more than three decades in the field.

“What we find is that once people get into a bigger building, their business skyrockets,” said Jim Morss, noting that it’s not uncommon for a new medical building to require an expansion in five years.

That’s what happened in McMinnville, Ore., when the couple were hired to help transform an overcrowded community clinic where patients climbed rickety steps to get in, then had to be weighed in the hallway in front of other people.

There was no question the clinic was inadequate, but finding a site that met the needs of staff and patients alike – on a strict budget – was a challenge.

The Morsses found a struggling retail mall across from the hospital, negotiated a lease, and helped transform the space into a new clinic the community could be proud of. The facility won an honorable mention in Northwest Construction magazine’s 2002 “award of excellence” contest. Other recipients included Seahawk Stadium, the Eugene Public Library and the Tacoma Art Museum.

The couple has completed nearly two dozen projects in recent years, ranging from a heart clinic in Medford, Ore., to an eye and skin center in Puyallup.

A more local example of their work now under construction is the 56,000-square-foot Salmon Medical Center in Silverdale, a striking nine-story facility that includes a surgery center with three operating rooms; a radiology suite with CAT Scan and MRI technology; and orthopedic and other speciality suites. The building is set to open in April.

Considering the multitude of changes in health care technology and delivery in recent years, designing medical facilities “is interesting, challenging and much more complex than other types of architecture,” Jim Morss said.

Planning each structure requires attention to detail regarding the placement of everything from cotton swabs to electronic imaging equipment, keeping in mind the movements of patients who may be dealing with physical limitations or small children, and allowing ample access to those patients by a team of medical professionals.

Clients frequently want medical buildings with small rooms, to maximimize usage. But Jim Morrs has demonstrated that bigger rooms can maximize efficiency and save steps, making it easier and quicker for staff to tend to patients.

Interiors have changed radically too, Susan Morss said. Twenty years ago, medical interiors were sterile and institutional, so large works of art were hung to offer some relief. But today’s facilities are designed with a more residential feeling, so patients feel calm and comfortable.

With a degree in art history and two decades of interior design experience, Susan Morss said she aims for soothing colors, clean lines and affordable furnishings in the couple’s projects.

The Morss’s met in the 1980s in Madison, Wis., where they both worked for a large medical facilities design firm. He designed buildings and managed projects, and she directed the art department.

The couple married and had four children, remaining in the Midwest until 1995, when a job opportunity at a Bellevue firm brought them to the Pacific Northwest. They started their own firm six years ago, and moved to the island in 1993.

In marriage and in business, they’re a team, aiming to provide clients with medical buildings that are functional, comfortable and filled with natural light.

“We always try to bring in as much light as possible,” Jim Morss said. “When you can see outside, it is calming.”

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