While adhering to new COVID-19 protocols has been difficult for the construction industry, it has been significantly more taxing on the healthcare sector, which is not only working to keep its essential workers safe, but also the public at large. Today, the pandemic continues to impact day to day operations with immense swings in patient counts and interrupted their cash flow with hundreds of elective procedures canceled.
In order to deliver quality healthcare to both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients simultaneously, operational protocols have drastically shifted.
As the healthcare industry plans for the uncertain future ahead, flexibility will be key. When it comes to building healthcare facilities, which are crucial in the fight against COVID-19, it is critical to work strategically and collaboratively with our healthcare clients and partners to overcome these unforeseen construction challenges and complete these essential projects safely and on time.
One current healthcare project that McCarthy Southern California has been able to streamline and keep moving forward throughout the pandemic is the Providence Tarzana Cedars Sinai Medical Center, which is dubbed a "hospital of the future" with unmatched patient care and technology. This project boasts new sustainable and energy efficient designs, including a five-story patient care tower with all private rooms and new state of the art specialty care units that put the focus on the patient and family.
To keep the essential healthcare projects like Providence Tarzana streamlined, it has been essential to put our client’s operations first and deliberately rethink our planned approach when it comes to the day to day relationship between hospital and construction operations.
A few successful measures that have implemented include: creating new temporary construction access points into the facility to reach work areas while minimizing interactions between workers; patients and visitors, developing detailed work plans pre-coordinated with the facility allowing us to take advantage of time periods where patient census allows access into the facility; and increasing communication on expected construction costs to our clients to help them make responsible, timely decisions to keep essential projects and hospital operations adept to deliver care without any significant impact to either.
As hospitals and care centers adapt to the pandemic, there are a few forward looking predictions that will be vital as general contractors continue construction on these facilities amid this global health crisis. One practice is offsite production (prefabrication), which will continue to play a critical role during this pandemic and beyond.
This approach moves what can be substantial portions of a project offsite and into a controlled, factory-like environment. There, it is easier to manage the potential health risk of employees while maintaining the schedule and commitment of essential building infrastructure to healthcare clients and the community. McCarthy has long employed offsite production and prefabrication techniques for healthcare projects across the country, streamlining fabrication efficiencies, control quality and improving safety by reducing work activities on an active jobsite.
As general contractors continue to adjust to this “new normal” the benefits of offsite production are even greater, as it reduces the number of workers on the jobsite, thereby decreasing the possibility of infection and subsequently contact tracing. An offsite production strategy also benefits healthcare owners by increasing flexibility and providing greater certainty.
Projects are more likely to be completed on-time and as specified with this method. Additionally, the construction often is faster because offsite production occurs in parallel with other activities on the jobsite.
Healthcare providers have been integrating both short- and long-term strategies to mitigate the transmission of the current coronavirus and to be actively prepared for future outbreaks. Because COVID-19 can be transmitted by airborne droplets, modifying HVAC systems is a strategy that has been top of mind for healthcare projects.
This includes modifying existing air filtration systems, UV or thermal sterilization techniques systems that provide temporary isolation of supply and return air, and by designing flexible and temporary spaces that provide physical isolation and separation both indoors and outdoors, supported by necessary mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
Additionally, it is equally important to prevent contact transmission. Many healthcare facilities have implemented touchless screening platforms to allow employees to self-assess before entering facilities. Healthcare providers also are using antimicrobial coatings in and around patient areas, with many taking steps to reduce the need for movement in and out of patient rooms. To avoid compromising containment, healthcare workers remain in the hallway and communicate with patients and providers in their rooms via windows and audio systems.
In areas where hospital space is at full capacity, providers are creating temporary spaces for screening, intake and ambulatory care that can be augmented with mobile power, medical gas systems in concert with wireless communications, records management, and instrumentation. McCarthy anticipates these simple and cost-effective preventative measures will become staples for all healthcare facilities in the future.
As the industry continues to navigate through the pandemic and the current landscape of healthcare construction in this region, healthcare systems in Southern California still are looking to the future with new construction projects, including University of California Irvine, Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Hoag Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Orange County and Rady Children’s Hospital, to name a few.
But the main concern for healthcare systems right now is focusing on the immediate crisis of the current surge. Fortunately, approved vaccines now are available for essential workers and will continue to be widely available.
While some parts of the industry may slow and expose shortcomings such as, lack of ICU beds and infrastructure, flexibility, innovation, collaboration and communication will be the key to successful healthcare designers and builders for the rest of 2021 and the years to come.
Pat Peterson is the Project Director at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.