by Tim King
The recent COVID-19 crisis has altered the way healthcare construction will be considered moving forward. New and renovation projects, big and small, will to need to incorporate future “patient surge” as an essential part of the planning and final build.
Flexibility has been surpassed by CONVERTIBILITY as the “now” standard for the planning and design of the next generation of healthcare projects. Much more than responding to a crisis, it is the positive initiative to incorporate surge capacity – on-campus – built into all new spaces.
Traditional non-bed areas like medical office, exam spaces and even waiting areas are perfect spaces for convertibility because those on-campus spaces already have dedicated clinician staffs, IT/EMR infrastructure and other resources onsite. Quick, impact-free convertibility can mobilize hundreds of patient beds/rooms in just days – IF designed and built properly. Embedded in-wall power and med gasses can be easily accessed and exploited in any space for strategic stockpile of on-campus beds within a hospital or system.
Utilities – Patient care space has very particular needs for advanced power options and specific medical gas availability. With these utilities built into the walls for future access, that space becomes a primary asset for quick conversion. The level of acuity change depends on the level of “in-built” healthcare grade power, emergency power and low volt needs as well as oxygen, medical air and other med-gas options that were planned and constructed.
Access – Building in-wall utilities does not guaranty easy availability. Rapid, low-impact ACCESS to the embedded utilities is the key to efficient, on-campus conversions. Mobilizing a traditional demo and renovation project with the associated impacts is not an efficient option for occupied hospitals. Easy on/off access panels or whole wall accessibility is an available alternative to conventional drywall construction (and demo). Tremendously versatile and accessible, these wall systems bring unparalleled functionality and unrestricted aesthetic options.
Pre-fabrication companies like DIRTT and others bring these convertibility and accessibility solutions to any hospital project, while forever removing traditional demolition and construction/renovation difficulties. Many top healthcare institutions across the nation have been using this construction method for remarkable access and maintenance cost benefits. The recent crisis has advanced these benefits from maintenance into crisis convertibility and strategic stockpiling.
Labor – Minimizing onsite labor is imperative in a pandemic circumstance. Labor restrictions may be mandated or chosen (recently some workers/firms chose not to work at healthcare campuses without unavailable PPE and other protections). Pre-fabricated off-site construction means jobsite labor reduction as well as supply chain confirmation with pre-assembled systems. It also brings much faster installs with minimized waste, dust, clutter and trash. This also benefits the ongoing Infection Prevention and Control (IP+C) efforts.
Moving forward, project teams should consider convertibility and labor reduction options for healthcare space projects. Engaging a prefabrication specialist early in the planning conversation will maximize the available knowledge (options) as well as bring the traditional pre-fab benefits of speed, cost/quality controls and sustainability.
Tim King is a project executive representing DIRTT Prefabricated Healthcare Construction.