At too many U.S. hospitals and health systems, facilities planning is approached by the leadership team as a means to an end rather than as a strategic activity essential to achieving the overall mission and vision of the organization.
On its face, this perspective from the c-suite and boardroom makes sense. Healthcare leaders are in the complex business of providing lifesaving services and treatment, and accordingly, that is where most resources are allocated.
But failing to take a more strategic approach to facilities planning is a missed opportunity for healthcare leaders who are looking for innovative and sustainable approaches to fulfill their overall mission and long-term vision. Strategic design and construction of medical offices, hospitals and clinics can help organizations realize their goals and aspirations in a cost-effective manner.
Additionally, as healthcare organizations face greater competition from new entrants and pressure to evolve to changing market conditions, the careful planning and design of facilities by leadership will be vital to success both now and in the decades ahead.
“Healthcare is a more retail activity than it was in the past — that means we have to impress people right when they walk through the door,” said Pete Zuraw, vice president of market strategy and development at Gordian, the leading provider of accurate insights, robust technology, and expert services for all phases of the building lifecycle, including consultative, adaptable and software-powered capital planning tools.
Recognizing the importance of facilities planning to a healthcare organization’s mission and long-term vision — and thus elevating its importance in the c-suite and the boardroom — can also help with current challenges the industry is facing. Healthcare organizations are dealing with immense financial and labor difficulties. A strategic focus on facilities planning by the c-suite and board can counter some of those pressures, leading to cost savings, improved sustainability, better employee and patient experience, and greater efficiency.
Best practices to elevate facilities planning
After a few years of slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, construction projects are in full swing at healthcare organizations across the country. And as more care moves from acute care hospitals to lower-acuity and home settings, healthcare organizations are being forced to evaluate how their buildings are being used and ways to transform them for the future.
“The smart places are taking the opportunity to really rethink where they want to go, as it becomes harder and harder to ensure compatibility between new organizational aspirations and the current physical portfolio,” Zuraw said.
This is where an integrated facilities plan across the enterprise can ensure projects support the organization’s overall mission and vision.
An important way to achieve this integrated plan is to include a leader of the facilities planning team when board members and the c-suite are discussing projects for existing and new facilities. Facilities planners are experts on the current capabilities and limitations of built structures. Additionally, they have invaluable insight into the feasibility of new construction projects.
“Leadership should not be dreaming up a new vision and then asking someone to realize it,” Zuraw said, adding that a project can easily become delayed or be incredibly expensive when facility planners aren’t involved from the onset.
In order to have the facility planners’ voice at the table, boardrooms and C-suites must value their role and consider them an important part of the leadership team.
“Most institutions do not have an executive with facility expertise on the team. Those that do are more informed when funding capital renewal and deferred maintenance backlogs,” said Mark Kenneday, director of business development for healthcare at Gordian.
Embrace data and flexibility
Planning discussions should be backed up by data. While feedback from staff and patients can help glean what improvements to make, data is a neutral source of information that can be used to understand true capacity and demand.
Data to leverage for facility planning includes costs of operation (people, materials, utilities), deferred capital renewal needs, and even the utilization of systems in service of operational demands. It should also include discharge data, patient length of stay and even data from the electronic health record. It’s the integrated analysis of building system data with hospital performance measures that allows for a true understanding of the success of the facilities in use.
Too often, healthcare leaders are not leveraging this integrated understanding of the data, resulting in the development of buildings that cannot meet current and future goals.
“Failing to look at the information that's available about the building can impede leaders from making really difficult but important decisions that won't waste more money and resources in the end,” Zuraw added.
A helpful approach to facilities planning involves working in phases. Facility projects can cost millions — sometimes even billions — of dollars. When plans are made that require an immense amount of investment all at once to be realized, there is a risk the plans are outdated by the time they are completed.
If the pandemic showed the healthcare sector anything, it was the benefit of planning with flexibility in mind. Hospitals rose to the challenge, converting intensive care and med-surg units to spaces equipped to care for COVID-19 patients. Emergency rooms were adapted also, with hospitals creating separate entrances and external waiting rooms for patients with symptoms.
The lesson learned is that planning spaces that can easily be converted in the face of a public health emergency is essential.
“Flexibility is crucially important to make sure you’re able to respond as quickly as possible to the remarkably dynamic evolution of medical practice,” Zuraw said.
How a trusted partner can help you execute your mission-driven facilities planning
As hospitals and health systems gain a greater appreciation of how facility planning can help fulfill their organization’s mission, it is important that leadership has the support of an established partner on this journey.
Gordian works alongside healthcare organizations to create relevant and strategic facility planning programs, providing tools and support for facility managers and financial leaders to achieve leadership buy-in. The company also helps organizations gather and evaluate data sources pertinent to their facility planning goals.
“Across our business, we are interested in helping people make the best possible decisions for their future – and where possible, helping them use their facilities resources most effectively to deliver on those decisions,” Zuraw said.
Learn more about Gordian and the services we provide by visiting our website.