Commercial construction is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. Each client is unique, with individual requirements that have to be factored into their construction project. The construction of healthcare facilities is even more complex, with strict requirements to their design. Let’s look at some of the particular challenges that healthcare construction projects come up against.
Design Factors in Healthcare Facilities
Healthcare facility design and construction requires considerations that many other construction projects don’t require, including elements of design for patient accessibility and well-being. These elements carry over to any sort of healthcare establishment, whether you’re working with a nursing home, an inpatient hospital setting or an outpatient facility location.
When constructing a new facility, a flat entranceway is a must for patients (both ambulatory and those in wheelchairs). Hallways need to be wide enough to accomodate stretchers and wheeled hospital beds, and patient rooms need to be large enough for not only the patient and any medical equipment but also visitors (while allowing for easy entrance and exit, as well).
Common areas need consideration, too. While acoustics isn’t always top of mind for many in healthcare building design, flat ceilings with soft tiles absorb sound so private conversations about health concerns can stay private.
What about cleaning and disinfecting? This is a daily, even hourly, protocol in healthcare facilities everywhere. Every surface, from walls to floors to countertops must be able to stand up to endless cleaning and sanitization for patient safety and infection control. Even chairs and light fixtures need to be constructed of materials that can be repeatedly cleaned. Researchers have made great strides recently in the area of antimicrobial surfaces that are engineered to be inhospitable to germs.
How Antimicrobial Surfaces Work
There are several different types of antimicrobial surfaces right now, and they function differently depending on the material. Some surfaces can be impregnated with copper, which gives off ions that are antimicrobial. Others are “smart” plastics that have a surface engineered to not allow viruses and bacteria to attach to it. Some companies are even working on materials that can be sprayed onto an existing surface to give it long-lasting antimicrobial properties.
An easily overlooked area of a healthcare setting is the operational side. Employee spaces and the daily operations of the facility should always be taken into account. Medical records spaces should be easily accessible to not waste time, and medical offices should be in a separate area from patient care. Locations with an operating room need to be designed to allow a surgeon and surgical assistants to move around freely while being able to access the equipment or instruments they may need.
Construction managers and general contractors also need to be mindful of large medical equipment when constructing a medical facility. The healthcare industry utilizes a variety of sophisticated machinery in its daily operations for diagnosis and treatment. Depending on the type of facility being built, new construction must consider issues as minute as the vibration that certain equipment can generate, or harmful rays from certain machines. Building codes will typically specify where certain pieces of equipment must be located or how they should be mounted to ensure safety during operation.
A healthcare facility’s HVAC system is another area that requires special attention. Medical facilities are typically twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week businesses. Not only do they put incredible demand on HVAC systems, but they also need them to perform in specialized ways. Humidity, for example, must be kept at a constant level, and high-quality airflow needs to be maintained at a certain rate. These requirements translate into larger and more sophisticated HVAC systems along with the ventilation pathways themselves.
The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Influence
The still-unfolding pandemic has altered nearly every aspect of our existence and will continue to influence healthcare construction for years to come. We already know that the pace of new projects has slowed because many healthcare organizations are rethinking their designs for existing facilities.
Moving into the future, patient occupancy will be an important consideration. Telehealth services are also expected to affect healthcare design, as space that once would have been used for patient visits will instead be used as private rooms for physicians to take medical calls.
COVID-19’s effect on healthcare raises interesting considerations for the future of health services. Some organizations may choose to operate smaller, leaner facilities than one large one, and in the end, most healthcare facilities of the future will focus heavily on flexibility. Pandemics will bring their own set of challenges, and healthcare facilities have to be ready to adapt in hours and days, rather than weeks or months.
COVID-19 and the Construction Industry
The ongoing pandemic continues to affect the construction industry, even as building begins to ramp up again and projects that were stopped or postponed get underway. The level of manpower remains relatively constant. One aspect that still continues to cause construction headaches is the supply chain. Certain materials are severely delayed or, in some cases, totally unavailable at the moment. Other material prices have increased dramatically as shortages continue to ripple through the market.
The Future of Healthcare Facility Construction
With every generation, new knowledge brings medical innovations and new ways of diagnosing and treating illnesses. These new innovations eventually become reflected in the construction of new medical facilities. Hospitals today aren’t built the same way they were thirty years ago, and in thirty years we will construct them differently than we do now!
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has forced some tough decision making on the part of the healthcare industry, the construction industry, and how these two entities interact. If you need experienced construction companies that are always looking toward the future, visit The Builders Association. You’ll find over 150 construction firms from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, representing every trade. Get started by downloading our directory and buyer’s guide!