In addition to flexibility, providers aim to become more self-sustaining. Victoria, Texas-based Citizens Medical Center is building a natural gas micro- grid—a local energy grid that can operate autonomously—with the help of backup energy supplier Enchanted Rock. Pandemic
While many healthcare providers have diesel backup generators, those can typically only power a fraction of their facilities.
After Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, Citizens Medical Center wanted a more robust solution, said Allan Schurr, chief commercial officer at Enchanted Rock. “There’s a trend for hospitals looking for full facility backup power,” said Schurr, adding natural gas is cleaner and less expensive than the diesel alternatives. “It’s becoming apparent that hospitals have to become more flexible than they are today. They are concerned about the compounding effect of a health crisis plus significant power outages.”
But capital budgets will likely be constrained as hospitals have lost a major revenue source amid rising expenses. More than a third of the survey respondents said their healthcare construction and design business is either flat or declining. That share has likely increased since most respondents filled out the survey in mid-April.
Many healthcare providers are postponing or canceling construction projects as their revenue plummets, largely due to the delay of non-urgent procedures. Margins have also sunk.
“It has significantly impacted our revenue,” construction management firm LF Driscoll wrote in the survey. “Many projects have been shut down or slowed down. We have had outright cancellations of projects that have been awarded but not yet started. We have incurred significant costs that cannot be passed on for protection of our staff, workers and job sites.”
Small, rural hospitals that don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate critically ill patients are taking the biggest hits, Huey said. “Some hospitals will close,” he said.
Rural hospitals have been removing or repurposing inpatient beds given that on an average day, fewer than half were occupied. Overall, hospitals shed around 150,000 inpatient beds from 1975 to 2018, according to the American Hospital Association.
Experts don’t expect the current crisis to measurably shift that trend. Still, while the overall number of beds will likely continue to wane given the advance of outpatient care, home health and telemedicine, there will be a renewed focus on intensive care, they said.
“While we believe that healthcare work will continue to grow, every project currently planned or in construction will or should be reexamined to see if adjustments can be made to better serve the ‘new normal,’ ” Pepper Construction Group wrote in the survey.
With hospitals working toward more flexible, inpatient accommodations, the national dialogue surrounding the need for specialized healthcare spaces will undoubtedly change, Savage said.
“The design of new facilities and the renovation of existing ones will likely heavily reflect the lasting effects of the pandemic,” he said.