Implications of COVID-19 on Healthcare Facility Space Planning

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February 5, 2021



By Melanie Harris and Chase Miller

As ground zero for the COVID-19 crisis, healthcare institutions had to quickly transform their buildings and campuses to meet surge requirements.  Declining revenues caused by the decrease in elective surgeries combined with the need to invest in PPE and implement enhanced cleaning protocols has placed considerable strain on hospital budgets.  As a result, many healthcare systems are rethinking their facility strategic plans in response to lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below are strategies, key challenges, and potential solutions for understanding healthcare facility space planning implications as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Set priorities – but not in stone. Now is the time to understand and clearly define your organization’s priorities. Begin by identifying the biggest need for each facility in your system. Then address those needs strategically in a way that maximizes value, while minimizing expenses. Set clear priorities – but do not set them in stone. Revisit them quarterly in order to build flexibility into your thinking so that you can adapt to future changes.

Dig deeper into the details.  Planning and growth projections are only as good as the information it is based on.  Ask yourself the following questions:  Do you have the right amount of information? Is it accurate?  Does it account for future growth?  Does it take into account one-time anomalies?

An excellent example of this is the ventilators needed for COVID-19 care protocols.  At the onset of the pandemic, hospitals did not have enough ventilators and the need was so great, manufacturing was initiated through the Defense Production Act. When COVID subsides, and large numbers of ventilators are no longer needed, hospitals will need to identify storage locations, conduct maintenance, and ensure certification of the machines.

Focus on the forest AND the trees. So many healthcare organizations are focused on day-to-day issues —putting fires out and delivering quality care (the trees)— they may not devote enough time to future planning.  It is important to take time to step back and look at the bigger picture (the forest) and develop a strategic master campus plan as well as a financial and market projection plan.

Too many organizations look at them as separate and distinct planning activities, but it is important to address them equally. Visualize all of the components in a holistic and comprehensive way. This is the best methodology for developing short-, mid- and long-range plans and goals. It is a fluid process—one you must continue to refine and revise.

Implications. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught healthcare organizations the importance of aligning their facility space planning requirements with evolving utilization rates, growth strategies, and operational models.  These lessons learned from the pandemic will better equip hospitals for the next generation of healthcare delivery.