The healthcare design and construction picture has been muddied by uncertainty over the new healthcare law. Hospital systems are in a bind, not knowing what levels of reimbursement to expect. Building Teams serving this sector will have to work even harder to meet growing client demands.

March 01, 2012

7. Help clients develop firm standards for construction project


Combined with patient safety and quality of care, cutting costs and adding value are top-of-mind concerns for Building Teams serving the vital and lucrative healthcare sector.

From its base outside St. Louis, Mo., Ascension Health, a ministry of the Daughters of Charity and Sisters of St. Joseph, operates 80 acute care facilities nationwide. To lower project costs and add to design value, Ascension’s five-member facilities planning staff, four design firms, several GCs, healthcare professionals, and others spent 15 months devising a 100-page guide for new construction and renovations covering standards for room size, overall square footage, mechanical and electrical infrastructure, and numerous other building features. The standards are aimed at cutting first costs, with high priority placed on energy savings, but exceptions can be made when spending more up front would yield lower total cost of ownership.

All projects of $10 million or more must comply with these standards and be approved by the facilities planning department, headed by Bob McCoole, vice president of the facilities resource group. McCoole says there has been some pushback at the local level: “Some projects have come in with a number of exception requests,” many of them of the “that’s-the-way-we’ve-always-done-it” variety. McCoole says his job is to determine whether an exception would improve the quality of care or service, or make the facility more efficient. A request for a three-story water feature isn’t going to get very far.

The good news is that healthcare construction, while off slightly from more halcyon days, remains quite solid. Three of four respondents (75%) to the Mortenson survey said their institutions’ construction activity would be at least “moderately greater” in the next 12-24 months—with 27% saying it would be “substantially greater.”

However, given current economic straits, hospital systems can no longer afford to build the kinds of elaborate monuments that, in decades past, could be justified on the basis of providing a marketing edge. That’s not to say that the next generation of hospitals should look cheap, drab, or utilitarian. But, along with assuring patient safety and quality of care, cutting costs and adding value have got to be top-of-mind concerns for Building Teams serving this vital—and still lucrative—sector. +


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