by Reaghan Schicker
After enduring three tumultuous years riding the rollercoaster of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has finally been declared over. However, the healthcare and AEC industry can’t afford to take a breath just yet. Persistent challenges such as high building costs and lengthy lead times continue to plague the industry, compelling us to execute a nimble dance around projects that start and stop, constantly pivoting at each phase. Nevertheless, our driving forces remain unchanged. Healthcare growth continues to be propelled by the pursuit of better health and improved access to care, ultimately relying on a system that comprises people, processes, and equipment. As we look beyond the pandemic, what should be our next step as a team of collaborators to deliver the best possible outcomes for our patients and staff?
True collaboration begins by assembling the right players at the table. For facility managers, finding a cohesive team that not only works well together but also challenges one another to innovate and defy conventional norms is no easy task. They bear the responsibility of shepherding a project from strategy to the moment the first patient is seen. It falls upon them to ensure that the internal team feels a sense of ownership over their space while adhering to all relevant guidelines and codes. In order to accomplish this, facility managers must build a team – both internally and externally – complete with a clear responsibility matrix to hold each member accountable. The process of assembling a team that bolsters one another’s strengths can be arduous for some and effortless for others. The pandemic has taught many of us the importance of humility and grace, acknowledging that perfection is not always attainable and there is always room for improvement.
One of the most daunting challenges throughout the lifecycle of a project is striking the right balance between operational changes and design modifications. It is not necessary to implement an integrated design process in order to assemble a team of AEC leaders who can rely on one another to enhance a project through collaborative efforts. We have an array of technology at our disposal that can substantially improve design outcomes. From 2D imagery and 3D visualizations to mockups, back box reviews, and simulations, these tools can be effectively utilized at various stages of a project to foster positive change and minimize alterations during the design and construction phases. They should be leveraged to secure donors, enhance staff workflow, improve interoperability, prevent change orders, and avert requested alterations post-project completion. But it doesn’t stop there. Architects must depend on evidence, best practices, and lessons learned to refine their designs. How often are architects or facilities given the opportunity to conduct post-occupancy surveys? It is almost a guarantee that for at least six months after the go-live date, the facilities team receives feedback regarding the new space, both positive and negative. Sharing this feedback with the original design team can foster collective growth within the industry and should be capitalized.
So, what has changed in the healthcare AEC industry over the past three years? We have honed our flexibility and adaptability, keeping crises and improved safety at the forefront of our minds. What hasn’t changed is our unwavering focus and ability to impact transient visitors within the healthcare system. Together, as one team, we possess the power to create lasting impressions and offer a safe haven for those in need. It all begins with strategy and innovation, flourishes with creativity, and culminates in empowerment. The AEC industry should take pride in the changes we effect and the profound difference our endeavors can make in the world.
Reaghan Schicker, a project manager and architect, leads the Planning, Design, and Construction team within the Facilities department at Connecticut Children’s.