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Rebuilding Post-COVID: Healthcare Construction Trends

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   May 20, 2021

Richard Simone, CHC, CEO of Central Consulting and Contracting, shares how the pandemic impacted healthcare construction and what trends to expect in the future.

Just as the COVID-19 pandemic affected hospitals differently across the country, the same is true with healthcare construction across the industry.

While some organizations had to cancel projects or put them on pause due to the pandemic's financial impacts, others found it more financially feasible to go ahead with their planned projects.

CHRISTUS Health announced in February that the healthcare organization would be building a new corporate office, forgoing a building lease, and having the flexibility to design it from the ground up. Additionally, Allegheny Health Network built a new hospital during the pandemic, slated to open in September.

Richard Simone, CHC, CEO of Central Consulting and Contracting, recently spoke with HealthLeaders about how the pandemic impacted healthcare construction trends, how various provider organizations were affected differently, and what trends to expect in the future.

Simone said that while some non-critical construction projects were put on hold, those same organizations then initiated renovations of existing patient care units to create more ICU beds.

"We saw both things happening in a 'one door closing, another door opening' kind of scenario," he said.

While some healthcare organizations were too far along in certain construction projects to pause them, he noted that others accelerated existing construction schedules, working overtime to bring services online sooner to have extra room when increased volumes were expected.

"Every health system is different and unique," Simone said. "Some of them have projects that are critical to their master plan and overall financial well-being … so those projects have no choice but to move forward, while other systems have put projects on hold or canceled projects completely."

According to Simone, some projects such as medical office buildings and doctors' offices, were either put on hold or canceled altogether as they were less critical in serving COVID patients. He added that some of the paused projects that are coming back have been value-engineered for a smaller scope of work due to the financial impacts of the pandemic.

Anticipating future trends

While no one knows exactly what will happen with healthcare construction trends in the future, Simone shared a few insights into what he's observed and heard from others in the industry.

"I think that what we're going to see are more health systems moving out to the communities and trying to get healthcare more local to the rural areas," Simone said. "One of the things that [patients] experienced was the travel time to get to the acute care hospitals, and the distance they are in some rural areas."

During the pandemic, rural communities also experienced an increase in racial and ethnic health inequities, leading to more death.

Simone also mentioned that some health systems are planning on building micro-hospitals and ambulatory facilities closer to their "catchment areas. While telemedicine and virtual care are also experiencing mainstream popularity due to the pandemic, Simone said this won't necessarily have a negative effect on construction trends.

“The pandemic has proven that telemedicine can work for a lot of things, especially primary care visits. I'm hearing that there's going to be a big influx of telemedicine going forward and most are planning for telemedicine departments in the future," Simone said.

Organizations may also create smaller, more accessible locations with social distancing still being utilized, or larger emergency departments with more spatial concerns between patients and visitors, he said.

Currently, architects are talking about making separate entrances of the hospital to separate patients with infectious diseases from those who are not infectious, Simone said. He concluded that hospitals are just starting to get back into finalizing construction plans they had before the pandemic and it's been a slower takeoff than what was anticipated.

"I thought this was going to happen closer to the end of last year or in January … it's going to start picking up a little bit more here in the third quarter, not as robust in the second quarter as we had anticipated," he said.

Melanie Blackman is a contributing editor for strategy, marketing, and human resources at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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