There are more than 6,000 hospitals across the United States, with nearly one million staffed beds. The recent pandemic exposed how essential our healthcare system is. It also exposed the need for improvements to some aging facilities.
Increased demand on the healthcare system is perhaps one reason that healthcare construction is expected to grow by nearly 10%, despite the slowing of construction starts in other sectors. When a hospital requires renovations or an expansion, administrators and facility directors face the challenge of maintaining operations during construction. Potential delays and disruptions not only result in lost revenue, they could also pose a risk to patients and healthcare workers.
To help minimize disruptions, revenue loss, and unexpected construction cost overruns, it’s important for hospital staff to work closely with the construction manager who will emphasize the following areas.
Pre-construction Planning and Communication
The number one preventative measure to avoid disruptions and revenue loss during construction is good communication between the construction manager and hospital personnel. This begins long before actual construction gets underway as part of the planning process.
Typically, there is a core group of key stakeholders involved in preconstruction planning, including maintenance staff, a facility manager, select administrators, and managers. From there, communication needs to move down the chain of command to main leads of the facility, nursing staff, and others to ensure everyone is on board and aware of what’s to come. Something as simple as not communicating with the cleaning crew or stocking clerk can create chaos.
The construction manager also needs to stay in close communication with subcontractors and vendors to ensure there are no delays of materials. This has become increasingly important in light of recent supply chain shortages as a result of the pandemic. Mother nature often plays a role, too, as happened with the historic winter storm in Texas that occurred in February 2021. Blackouts occurred throughout the state, affecting millions and delaying materials, including air handlers and other parts for use in hospital construction. Without ongoing and proactive communication with suppliers, a construction crew might find out about such a delay only after the items didn’t show up.
What is sometimes overlooked is communicating with patients. When possible, hospital staff should notify patients who have scheduled procedures ahead of time that construction is taking place and that they might be placed in a different location or need to report to a different reception area.
Plan in Phases
Because of the round-the-clock care that hospitals provide, construction is often done in phases. A phased approach requires detailed scheduling to ensure everyone is aware of when certain construction elements will take place.
Knowing when and for how long any mechanical shutdowns will occur, such as electrical, plumbing, or HVAC, is a top concern. The traffic flow throughout a facility also needs to be planned in phases, showing alternate routes for moving patients to other areas of the hospital for treatment or surgery. Certain phases of a project will be scheduled to occur during off hours or weekends when there are fewer activities occurring.
Depending on the scope of a project, some staff may need to be relocated to another part of the building or even offsite. If an air handler needs to be shut down for a couple days, patients may need to be moved to a different floor. Such decisions are made collaboratively with facility planners and staff far in advance so there are no surprises.
Plans and phases may also need to be flexible based on unknowns. If a surgeon plans a vacation, it may present a window of opportunity to conduct work in a treatment or surgical room. Conversely, if an emergency surgery is needed, work in an area may need to halt in order to accommodate the patient’s needs, once again emphasizing the critical nature of ongoing communication and transparency.
While signage makes up a small portion of a construction budget, its importance in minimizing disruption and helping patients get the care they need cannot be overstated.
Consider the scenario of someone driving a loved one to the emergency room, only to discover that the entrance to the ER has moved, or that a street has been blocked off without notice. An emergency situation can feel chaotic enough without the added stress and confusion of not knowing where someone needs to go.
Advance signage announcing that construction will begin soon also helps keep patients and staff informed and can even create a sense of anticipation for future improvements to the facility. As part of the planning process, your construction manager should work with the facilities manager and key stakeholders to outline necessary signage.
Understanding the Role of the Construction Manager
So, who takes the lead on communication? The construction manager should initiate necessary conversations with key stakeholders throughout the process. Once construction starts, a good construction manager will be onsite nearly every day to oversee progress and address any issues. They should also set up weekly meetings with construction workers and hospital staff. In fact, it’s not unusual for a construction manager to take part in morning “huddles” with nursing staff when they come on shift and, in some ways, become an extension of their team.
Ensure that key members of the healthcare team have a list of the construction company’s contacts and information if a need or issue arises when they’re not there or for after normal working hours.
In the end, the construction management team must put the needs of the healthcare facility and their schedules first to ensure they remain in operation with as little disruption as possible.
Engaging a construction management firm and general contractor that specializes in healthcare planning, renovations, and new construction can help ensure a smooth and successful construction project. Contact the experienced team at The Samuels Group to talk through your healthcare facility’s expansion or renovation needs, and learn about our personalized and professional approach. To help start the conversation, please download our helpful guide below with questions to bring to the table.