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Healthcare Environments Under the Microscope

On March 24, 2021, SMPS Philadelphia and AIA Philadelphia hosted an informative panel discussion by major healthcare systems moderated by Christina Grimes, associate principal and director of healthcare planning at Ballinger. The panel featured Diana Henkel, assistant director of infrastructure at NYU Langone Health; Kelly Miller, architect and project manager at RWJBarnabas Health; and Suzanne Morris, director of construction management at Nemours Children's Health System.

While each healthcare system was positioned differently pre-pandemic and has deployed an individualized approach to addressing COVID-19 during the public health crisis, all three panelists identified common challenges and considerations driving the future planning of their respective institutions.  

The panelists agreed on the importance of not just thanking healthcare workers but creating employee-friendly environments that address their mental health: improving air quality, reducing travel distances, and creating spaces for respite. Kelly encouraged design teams to spend time with clinicians during the design process to understand workflows and optimize layouts. 

The challenges of remote work resonated with the panel. The value of in-person interaction is substantial – particularly in the safety-conscious fields of architecture, engineering, and construction – but remote work is likely here to stay for some staff populations. Nemours, which had been considering constructing a new office building, put those plans on hold according to Suzanne, while Kelly raised concerns about patient record security in a remote-work environment.

The panel also addressed the value and expense of being able to switch to negative pressure rooms, the unexpected challenge of enabling clinicians to monitor patients from outside of a room, the importance of designing for flexibility and modularity, and the growth of telemedicine. 

Although all three healthcare systems have initiatives in place for employment and participation of M/WBE contractors and suppliers, and they each embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion, consideration of the latter has not yet been integrated with their procurement programs. The panelists acknowledged that this is an important strategic priority for their institutions. Kelly emphasized the importance and value design firms can provide by supporting client DEI initiatives through the composition of their teams and inclusion of experienced M/WBE firms, even when not required by an RFP. 

SMPS Philadelphia and AIA Philadelphia appreciate the generosity of our event sponsors – LERA Consulting Structural Engineers and Mainstay Engineering Group – and the continued support of our annual sponsors.

Interested in watching the full discussion? A recording is available for purchase in SMPS Philadelphia’s Event Store.

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