The 8:30 a.m. check-in time doesn’t seem to bother Jessica Bennett as she strides into what will become her home away from home for the next days and weeks. 

Walking into the west entrance of a sparkling 855,325 square-foot complex, the 26-year-old smiles as she’s greeted by cheering staff and handed a key card to her private room with a courtyard view.

But Bennett’s new digs aren’t in a luxury hotel or high-end university dorm. Rather she is the first patient of about 200 to move into St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton’s new West 5th Campus facility on Sunday.

Card for Jessica Bennett

Hospital volunteers left each patient flowers and a welcome card. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

The newly opened Mountain hospital, which specializes in mental illness, is aiming to make the patients’ environment a key tool in their care.

For starters, the privacy of the single room with its own washroom is immediately a step up from her lodging at the old West 5th hospital. Bennett, a patient in St. Joe’s mood-disorder program who says she’s "been part of the system for a long time," marvels to reporters about the amenities in her new setup.

There’s also a closet with a plug. "I think that’s really cool because you can charge your cell phone and stuff like that," Bennett said.

And then there's the view: A set of broad windows by the bed overlooks a bright, snow-blanketed courtyard.

"Just looking at it, it’s gorgeous. If you have a gorgeous surrounding, you're going to feel better," said Bennett.

"I think this is going to help with people’s recovery and their journey."

'Reducing stress and anxiety'

That’s precisely the point of the design of the $581-million facility, according to Dr. David Higgins, president of St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

"We’ve designed the building to be healing of itself," he said. "Having that sense of privacy, having that sense of being able to retreat, to be on your own for a while to cope with the stresses and strains when suffering from mental illness is really key.

"There’s a sense of safety, security and comfort and that’s hugely helpful in reducing stress and anxiety."

St. Joe's West 5th lobby

The new hospital's most striking feature is its soaring, naturally-lit main atrium. More than 70 per cent of the building has access to natural light. (John Rieti/CBC)

A research hospital as a well as a care facility, St. Joseph’s will be studying how the format of the new building affects patients’ sleep and, in turn, their overall mental health.

"Obviously, we’re making the prediction that having your own private room with a lockable door and a lot less noise would improve your sleep quality," said Dr. Peter Bieling, Director of the hospital's Mood Disorders Program.

"We know sleep quality is important in psychiatric illness, so we want to do what we can for it."

The layout of the hospital also promotes a feeling of independence. Residents’ programmable keycards grant them access to different parts of the building — including a "galleria" space where they grab a cup of coffee, socialize or go to the gym.

"If people are confined to a very limited space, that rhythm of your life gets disrupted as well," said Higgins.

"We’ve got exercise rooms, we’ve got gyms, we’ve got large corridors where people are free to walk in where they weren’t before.

"All of that — that rhythm of your day and getting your body rhythms back in line — is fundamental."