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Healthcare renovations need experts and leaders

March 2015
By Jackson Simpson, Project Manager, Hoar Construction

Healthcare construction has evolved dramatically over the past few years. The industry has always required experienced contractors that understand the importance of patient satisfaction and safety; however, recently the type and scope of projects in the healthcare field have trended toward more renovations and upgrading of existing facilities. Hospitals are constantly evolving to keep up with the latest technological advances in the medical field as well as undergoing cosmetic upgrades that lend themselves to increased patient desirability. Changes in how and where care is delivered require a re-examination of real estate strategies and often trigger repurposing of existing physical plant.

When it comes to healthcare, renovation projects are typically far more challenging than new construction. Any renovation of an existing building affects every facility user: physicians, staff, patients and guests. The potential disruption a construction project typically causes can affect patient satisfaction and create serious safety concerns if the ability to deliver services without interruption is not handled with absolute attention to detail.

Renovations must address a basic truth that can not be overlooked: Patients use the facility under construction. Since reimbursement is increasingly tied to patient satisfaction ratings, providing an excellent patient experience is not just the right thing to do—it can also influence a hospital’s bottom line and the facility’s reputation. Hoar’s healthcare builders stress a solid team, communication, and planning as the keys to accommodating patient care needs during renovations.

A well-qualified and reliable project team is critical to the success of a healthcare project. At Hoar, our healthcare professionals understand the critical importance of investing in robust scheduling and phasing strategies, establishing smart processes for utility tie-ins and shutdowns, and implementing outstanding safeguards for infection control. We study every element of the building, schedule, and process and give direct and candid feedback to help team members understand the intricate issues that can impede success.

This detailed approach is exactly what Hoar’s team is implementing for the Emergency Department addition and renovation at Tomball Regional Medical Center, our sixth consecutive project with the hospital. Shawn Mitchell, Project Superintendent, explains our emphasis on communication: “Our job as construction manager goes beyond bricks and mortar. We strive to work alongside one another, and we seek out opportunities to engage with our client and our design and subcontractor partners. We work to establish an open line of communication and mutual trust so the project can succeed.”

Once construction commences, regular site walks with the Project Superintendent help keep hospital administrators, doctors, and plant operations personnel informed on the construction progress, logistics and team challenges, and also allow Hoar to hear and address any concerns hospital personnel might have. Honest, open communication can have far-reaching impacts on budget and schedule.

At Hoar, we make it common practice to look at the impact of our work from the perspective of important stakeholders. We place just as much emphasis on the patient’s satisfaction as we do the hospital personnel’s. “Think like a patient sitting in the rooms adjacent to construction,” suggests Brady Johnson, Vice President of Operations. “Think of sound, sight, smell, vibration, wayfinding.” When patients fill out satisfaction surveys, their recollection of construction around them should be negligible. This can only happen when construction processes are so well designed their intrusion on the working medical environment is perceived as minor—even if it is not. And remember, families often fill out surveys on behalf of patients. If they are dissatisfied, they’ll be sure to express it; so try to make construction an invisible (or barely visible) activity. Johnson recalls an idea Hoar used at one hospital where new construction was rising right outside the windows of active patient rooms. Rather than exposing patients to disruptive construction, Hoar ordered window coverings with bright scenes to give patients a pleasant view from their windows.

Hospital staff and administrators essentially become project ambassadors when equipped with current project information and updates. Think about how they are projecting the impact of construction to patients and their families. Are they kept informed? Do they know how long you will be disrupting their work area? Do they have suggestions for wayfinding? Are they experiencing any problems related to the construction? Staff perceptions will imprint onto patients and guests. The more positive their experience, the more enthusiastically they’ll project that image to other facility users.

Construction activities at Tomball Regional Medical Center are a perfect example of a project that had the potential to cause disruptions to the functioning medical facility, but with proper planning and communication the work has been a success for the facility. Patient satisfaction and safety are our number one priority on all projects. Our healthcare professionals believe hospital operations override construction activities every time. An adjustment to the schedule or phasing is minor compared to disrupting hospital services. Healthcare construction requires flexibility and a healthy understanding that our job is to stay behind the scenes while meeting all scheduled deadlines and budget requirements. When it comes to our healthcare projects, the greatest compliment that we can receive is “We hardly noticed you were here.”

Hoar’s healthcare builders stress communication and planning as keys to accommodate patient care needs during renovations. If you are planning a renovation project, here are some things you should ask your builder to increase your chances of success:

Are they principled experts? Does the team have direct relevant healthcare experience? Do they appreciate the critical importance of a healthcare renovation project and have the patient’s best interest at the forefront of their minds?

Is the superintendent a leader? Is he an extraordinary thinker and planner? Does he embrace a challenge and express a burning desire to serve?

Is the team detail oriented? Do they have a communication plan for your project? How will they keep the hospital up to date on critical construction activities?

Are they progressive thinkers? Do they have innovative ideas and solutions and offer ways to build the project better?

Does the construction team embrace a partnering spirit? Do they truly consider the hospital staff and patients as members of their team?

Jackson Simpson is a project manager with Hoar Construction currently leading the renovation of Tomball Regional Medical Center.