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Making Flexibility Central on Today’s Healthcare Projects

  by Megan Headley | June 22, 2016

Because today’s healthcare market is changing so rapidly, speakers at the Health Care Institute’s Healthcare Real Estate conference on June 8 in Washington, D.C., emphasized the importance of flexibility and innovation in today’s facility solutions.

In a presentation on repurposing buildings for healthcare, Andrea Hyde, director – space, project and construction planning for LifeBridge Health, drove home the point that flexibility is crucial for today’s projects.

"Think about what hospitals were built for—helping the sick—and where we're heading—a focus on wellness. They're not really congruent," she commented.
Hyde also pointed to trends that have quickly fallen by the wayside. "In any article from 10 years ago, you heard that you had to make your hospital look like a hotel,” she said. The result, she added, was that CEOs were reaching to put features into their facilities that were well outside of what they needed or could afford. They were sold on finishes, for example, that were aesthetically pleasing but couldn’t sustain the intensive cleaning required in a healthcare setting.

Hyde’s description of renovating a building constructed in 1992—working around massive reinforced concrete columns, problematic atriums, challenging air distribution and the like—further drove home the point that to adapt to future needs, healthcare systems need to focus on solutions that allow for simple adaptation to tomorrow’s trends.

Manufacturers are meeting demands for flexibility

Manufacturers are responding to this need for flexibility with solutions such as more cost-effective modular walls, vacuum plumbing systems, and raised flooring, Hyde added. These types of innovations are helping make “rigid” existing buildings simpler to adapt to today’s needs.

In a later presentation on reimagining outpatient care facilities for the future, Tracy Bond of SmithGroup JJRagreed that flexibility helps ensure efficiency over the long term. Modular building solutions are gaining traction as a solution for boosting construction flexibility.

Bond explained that using a “plug and play” kit of parts can save significant time in design and construction, and promote ease in future changes. Using prefabricated, modular solutions across a campus or brand also can ensure a healthcare system is providing the same level of care across board.

David Parrish of DIRTT Environmental Solutions added that vendors such as DIRRT are providing more vendor neutral solutions to help facilities professionals add modular solutions for engineered systems.

Designers and contractors explore innovative strategies

In a case study on VCU Health System’s complex OR renovation, speakers emphasized the benefits of a flexible and innovative approach in construction. The team was charged with renovating the OR space while keeping 14 ORs running at all times and seeing no loss of revenue. To meet these challenges, the project took what speaker’s called an “IPD Lite” approach, in which contractors were brought on early but still operated using traditional contracts. It’s a method gaining increasing traction on healthcare projects, the speakers noted.

“VCU really signed on for this IPD Lite because this project impacted one of their most revenue-impacting floors—the ORs,” commented Mike Fievet of JLL, owner’s rep for VCU. “They had from day one mindset of let's bring as many partners as needed onboard early.”

Eric Rasmussen, project director for DPR Construction, noted that it proved hugely beneficial to have an MEP partner onboard early to conduct an investigation into air flow and various additions that had been made to the facility since the 1970s.

The team operated using a “big room” concept, in which all parties planned together in one room onsite. This helped start relationships at the beginning of job and improved communication across the board. The project also applied lean concepts through a one-model approach, which helped reduce changes later in the process.

Fievet noted that in future projects, he hoped to use the big room concept more fully and bring more people into the project early on. Rasmussen agreed that bringing OR integration professionals early on could have been a bigger time-saver.

Fievet also attributed the project’s success to early planning, as well as "getting the right team onboard from Day One, and getting them in the mindset that we're all one project team." When issues arose, the focus wasn’t on assigning blame but on creating solutions. This flexibility helped the project team to overcome a number of challenges and successfully achieve goals set out by the owner.

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