Healthcare construction has always brought a unique set of challenges to builders, and when the coronavirus pandemic swept the world contractors were challenged with unprecedented building and safety requirements.

Doster Construction Company has been building healthcare facilities for more than five decades and throughout 2020 we continued building healthcare facilities for our communities. We built new hospitals, renovated and expanded operating healthcare facilities, and built temporary Covid-19 testing facilities. Our history combined with our team’s vast set of experience and skills allowed us to continue building in the face of the many obstacles Covid-19 brought our way.

We interviewed Larry Jenison, VP/Regional Operations Manager and 35-year healthcare industry veteran, on how Covid-19 has affected construction. Larry has experience ranging from renovations and expansions to a $350 million greenfield hospital, and everything in between. As VP/Regional Operations Manager, Larry plays a huge role in setting up predictable outcomes for our clients.

 How has COVID-19 affected construction on healthcare campuses?

We have a higher level of awareness. We always practice infection control, but the difference now is it is not only for patients, but an increased priority on the workers too. It takes a lot of planning and coordination, and it can change daily. You must be adaptable.

What tools and techniques are used to overcome any challenges associated with it?

Employee monitoring. We take temperatures daily at every jobsite. We have to have a higher level of communication. We’ve also been able to work with healthcare campuses we’re working on by setting up testing tents and any unique needs they have that the pandemic has brought.

What safety measures are put in place to protect patients, staff, and construction workers?

We strictly follow the COVID protocols by wearing masks, taking temperatures, limiting meeting attendance and trying to have those meeting outside. We have also put in handwashing stations around our jobsites.

Are you seeing more use of prefabricated materials to reduce time on site and rework?

We are starting to see more clients investigating the benefits of prefabrication.  To some extent, our mechanical trades have been prefabricating for some time.  Now we are having projects that are specified to have the complete bathroom prefabricated.   We are excited to be a part of these new directions.

What is the current state of the healthcare market? Are we seeing a rise or decline?

The Healthcare market is changing and has been changing for many years.   I think it is a resilient market sector and has shown to be a continued source of revenue and will be as long as things keep evolving.   We have seen a migration from the hospital proper to more niche based freestanding buildings.   That being said, we are still building and renovating large hospitals as they are still the epicenter of our healthcare system.   As an organization we are seeing steady growth in our Healthcare Division.

Have you seen any design changes due to the pandemic?

We have been engaging with a diverse group of architects and engineers to try and be proactive. We want to stay ahead of the curve and bring new ideas to our clients. We started this focus early on to try to be the source of change for our clients.  This has been helpful in that we are able to be a thought leader on the topic.

Are our healthcare clients’ needs and wants changing or do you foresee changes in the post-covid era?

Our clients are definitely revisiting the design aspects of their new projects.   Triage and waiting spaces will have a new approach.   IT practices such as intake will start happening before the visit.   We will see more teledocs and electronic communication.   I think some of the handwashing requirements will stay around in the healthcare environments post covid.   If anything, COVID has forced everyone to rethink the way things are done to prepare for the next pandemic.

What are some lessons your teams have learned while building on active healthcare campuses during the pandemic?

Some lessons learned have included: limiting construction personnel’s access to the existing facility to only those essential to ICRA survey, establishing ICRA. Maintaining a true “bubble” between patients and the construction project is essential in preventing the spread of any type of infectious disease, and to avoid exacerbating an existing problem with construction dust.

A few more Covid-19 lessons learned which have proven to be helpful in maintaining our onsite teams health and production have been; Separate Port-o-lets for each Subcontractor,  which type of PPE needs to be worn, established modified means and methods to maintain social distancing, changing our field culture of “working through the pain verses coming to work when they don’t “feel well”,  limiting job meeting attendance to essential personnel and offering a ring remote option for non-essential attendees, and sanitizing high touch areas before and after meetings.

Final words

I can’t think of healthcare construction without thinking of the countless brave healthcare workers who have been fighting to save lives during the pandemic. We are honored to be able to work along side some of them as we build and expand healthcare facilities and have endless gratitude for their work in our communities.  Patient care is why we exist and we try to keep that in our core as we approach our projects.

Click here for more on Doster’s healthcare construction experience.