In 2009, OhioHealth decided to take a hard look at its neuroscience capabilities. Its program at the time was the fifth-busiest in the state, and demographic changes, such as aging baby boomers, suggested that volume could continue to increase.
“All of that said, this is a really robust area for future growth,” said Connie Gallaher, OhioHealth's vice president of neuroscience.
The Columbus-based system this month opened a $300 million neuroscience center at Riverside Methodist Hospital, its largest hospital. The project, which was funded with cash reserves, will allow the hospital to attract not only patients, but also neurologists.
OhioHealth is among a number of systems that are once again in building mode.
After a period when health systems largely turned their attention—and their funds—to health information technology needs, there are signs that the construction industry is getting a second wind.
Most of the focus has been on outpatient services as healthcare increasingly shifts to lower-cost-care settings. Health systems and hospital chains also are opening freestanding emergency departments to bring in additional volume. But even on the inpatient side, there's a greater emphasis on service line planning as hospitals seek to become more competitive in high-margin specialties.
“The whole economy is on a slow but steady rise,” said Thomas Gormley, a Nashville-based project executive at AECOM, a design and construction firm. “There seems to be a lot more money flowing into healthcare construction these days.”
In Dallas, UT Southwestern in December opened the William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, which was made possible by a $100 million donation from the late Texas governor for which it was named. The new campus provides more space for research activities, redesigns patient rooms to create a more peaceful environment and embeds a number of technologies such as videoconferencing at every bedside.
The bond market also suggests that hospitals are financing new projects.
In Houston, Texas Children's Hospital is raising $195.7 million through the municipal bond market that will fund a new 548,000 square-foot facility in The Woodlands, due to open in 2017. An outpatient facility is expected to be operational as soon as next year.
It is also building a new 640,000 square-foot tower on its main campus that will allow it to expand its critical-care services and surgical offerings, and will include a helipad. That project, scheduled to be completed in 2018, will free up space in its West Tower, and allow it to invest additional capital into an emergency department redesign there.
Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque, N.M., is raising $237.2 million through the bond market, and will direct $100 million of those funds toward capital projects. The system is planning to spend $450 over the next two years on capital expenditures.
Those goals include the six-story Rust Medical Center Patient Tower and Cancer Center, scheduled to open at the end of this year at its Rio Rancho hospital. It also recently opened two medical clinics in nearby communities and has plans for two more.
In addition to the improving economy, health systems have more certainty around the future of the Affordable Care Act.
“I'm not aware of any market where there's not activity,” said Dick Miller, president at Earl Swensson Associates, a Nashville-based architecture firm. “It's definitely picking up. There's a lot of activity and a lot of it's focused on outpatient.”
Projects that were on hold are being restarted and healthcare providers are hiring new project management staff, said Gormley, who expected demand to remain high. “There's still this jockeying to get into specialty services.”
Certain states, such as Texas, have recovered faster than others, said Coker Barton, senior vice president and national healthcare director at Birmingham, Ala.-based Hoar Construction.
The projects depend on the local needs. Rural hospitals, which serve an aging population, are adding skilled nursing and geri-pysch facilities, he said. In the suburbs, there's demand for freestanding emergency departments to serve patients who don't want to make the trek into the city for urgent care.
At OhioHealth's neuroscience center, the new space will allow more opportunities for clinical research. Patients also will be able to have their office visits and diagnostic procedures performed in a single location. And design details from the color palates to the subtle lighting offer a more soothing treatment space.
“We did a lot of things to control the environment,” Gallaher said. “This was very much designed with the neuroscience patient in mind.”