Healthcare Facilities: An Aging Population

The ongoing, unprecedented coronavirus outbreak is bringing a long-standing dilemma to the forefront of the health industry: the balancing of financial resources between patient needs and healthcare facilities’ needs. To be clear, treating patients is, and should be, the utmost priority of healthcare organizations at all times. Now, more than ever, every available resource should be dedicated to treating patients. But the surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide has also revealed a weakness in our care facilities.

Most of our healthcare facilities were built more than 10 years ago. Over the lifetime of these hospitals, clinics and care centers, the majority have not had enough resources allocated to keeping them up to date. How do we know? Because 56% of healthcare professionals surveyed said that updating aging facilities is their most urgent construction need. And this trend may be making it more difficult to keep up with the widespread COVID-19 illness.

The Impacts of Facility Age on Care Situations

From the moment an organization begins using a new or replacement facility, the effects of time begin wearing on it. To clarify, the numerical age of a particular facility, taken on its own, isn’t necessarily an issue. Rather, it’s whether the initial design of the spaces in that facility are still relevant to current treatment practices.

Every hospital, when it’s first built, has its patient rooms, labs and public areas built up to or beyond the building standards of that time. But, as you know, treatment standards for different specialties and conditions can change almost on a yearly basis. Put another way, treatment models and technologies associated with them have a much shorter lifecycle than the facility itself.

This can start a ripple effect of issues in healthcare facilities. Resources devoted to facilities can easily be exhausted by keeping up with new technologies, leaving fewer available resources to update the physical spaces. As funds are consistently allocated to upgrading technologies, the designs of care spaces fall further out of date. And, generally speaking, the longer the length of time between updates to physical spaces, the more those updates cost.

All of this creates a pile of deferred maintenance backlogs that are too costly to address in a timely manner. The more the backlog piles up, the less efficient care spaces can become.

 

The Fountain of Youth for Aging Healthcare Facilities

There is, however, a remedy to this weakness, and it starts with having more informed and accurate data – data that is based on analytics specific to a facility’s life cycle – to guide facilities investment decisions. Gathering this data can be difficult, as every building has a unique design, investment history and current lifecycle needs. So rooting your data and assessment in a standard, objective format is essential.

At Gordian, we use Uniformat II, a recognized American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standard, for our Sightlines Assessment and Planning solution. This gives our assessment process a transparent baseline that is non-proprietary, developed by a recognized agency and supported by proper science. All this allows us to provide healthcare leaders with concrete plans for how to update facilities and track their improvement over time.

After having a proper, data-driven view of your facilities, it becomes a matter of stewarding resources to manage the effects of time on your building. Addressing small capital and maintenance needs in your current spaces ensures that they remain efficient and flexible for patient care.

Once past the COVID-19 surge, when not all available resources are rightfully given to patients’ immediate needs, healthcare providers should look to reassess their physical spaces for opportunities to address longstanding needs. Until then, our nation will weather this storm and our healthcare providers will have once again demonstrated the ability, care and courage we’ve come to expect from them.

Mark Kenneday

About Mark Kenneday

As Gordian's Director of Market Strategy and Development for Healthcare, Mark Kenneday actively listens to clients and assists them with reliable and effective solutions to support their business strategies and ensure the successful management of their facilities portfolio. He has almost four decades in service to the healthcare industry, both as a business partner and an owner. Mark also served many years on The American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) committees and subcommittees, chaired the Research and Development Committee, the Advocacy Committee and sat for four years on the ASHE Board of Directors, serving as President in 2013.