Adaptable and modular spaces will now be top of mind as healthcare providers retrofit and design their facilities, construction and design experts said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given health system leaders a new perspective as hospitals have adapted to accommodate an influx of patients. To be better prepared, hospitals will invest in flexibility: convertible and expandable rooms, advanced air-filtration systems, built-in storage spaces, wider hallways and virtual compatibility, among other improvements, experts said.
“I don’t think we would’ve given as much attention to how flexibly we could use waiting rooms for patient care six months ago,” said David Huey, president of architecture firm Dewberry, noting that many emergency department waiting rooms are negative pressure rooms. “Before this, I don’t think any would say, ‘Go ahead and spend another quarter of a million dollars to upgrade those waiting rooms.’ That is prime real estate for treating infectious patients.”
COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of the healthcare industry’s emergency preparedness and infection-control infrastructure.
Healthcare workers, architects and engineers have assembled triage testing tents in their parking lots; set up entire intensive-care units and negative-pressure rooms for COVID-19 patients; strategically coordinated storage closets, entrances and exits to preserve protective gear; and outfitted rooms with cameras to limit exposure and control the virus’ spread.
The need for flexible space escalated when COVID-19 hit, said Robin Savage, president and chief operating officer at construction firm Robins & Morton, who expects providers to expand their inpatient capacity.
“A surplus of specialized patient rooms has restricted many systems’ abilities to serve a variety of patients,” he said. “Also, hospital administrators want versatility to use the limited space available on healthcare campuses to meet community needs.”
Broward Health in South Florida converted a portion of its standard patient rooms into temporary isolation rooms by retrofitting windows with negative air machines equipped with digital pressure alarms, the construction firm Skanska USA wrote in Modern Healthcare’s annual Construction & Design Survey.
Some survey respondents indicated that any new construction projects will look drastically different.
“COVID-19 has laid bare the inadequacies of our care system, and those shortcomings will need to be addressed through design, construction and strategy development,” Array Architects wrote in its survey response. “The U.S. healthcare system has been designed, operationally and physically, to be lean and very good at providing tertiary and quaternary care, and thus not very flexible around capacity. The COVID-19 pandemic should cause us to rethink investments in many areas to better serve patients, while balancing the need for preparedness for the inevitable next time.”