All Is Well: Q+A With Mortenson Construction's Larry Arndt
The effort to promote and support population health and wellness has few rivals in its influence on healthcare today, inspiring the planning, design, and construction community to create environments that help providers deliver on that mission. The solutions being brought to the table vary widely, though, each in its own way answering the call. Healthcare Design asked industry members how wellness is being defined in their work—and they showed us. In this special report, "All Is Well," (to be published in the May 2016 issue of the magazine and in installments online in April and May), find a sampling of the myriad innovative and inspiring approaches being taken.
Healthcare Design: What’s the most significant trend you’ve seen on the construction side when it comes to providers’ goals/expectations for wellness and the role buildings play in achieving it?
Larry Arndt: Providers at all care levels are increasingly focusing on wellness, not just treating illness and disease, and their physical spaces are changing to reflect that emphasis. Both renovations and new construction are taking place to better support new population health services, care delivery processes, technology, and other provider priorities. It begins with each provider’s strategies of what services they want to offer, in what settings, and how they want to reach out to patients, followed by architects developing building designs to implement those strategies, including improved sustainability and energy-efficiency efforts. Construction then executes on those designs and plans. There’s an important difference between going to a hospital’s cancer center for treatment and going to a wellness center for cancer treatment. And it’s much more than marketing. A wellness center might use sustainable building materials and finishes, and the design may be more spa-like than clinical.
What advancements have been made in green construction materials that support these efforts from the get-go?
The move to adopt sustainable building practices and materials has been underway for some time, with LEED and the Green Guide for Healthcare, but its use is becoming more prevalent. New building codes requiring sustainable practices are spurring some of the changes. Many providers, though, are more educated about the issues and are eager to reduce energy use and reduce their impact on the environment, so more are choosing sustainable materials as part of the design process. Because of rising demand, more manufacturers are rolling out environmentally friendly options. You can find flooring and paint without PVC and other harmful chemicals, for example. Also, materials behind the walls are going greener, too, with alternatives to traditional solder used for copper piping, sheathing placed on wiring, and treatments used on steel and for fireproofing.
Wellness also needs to be maintained during construction, specifically at an operational site. What are some solutions that are available today to advance these efforts?
Infection control is a major focus of any construction project for providers. Dust and debris from excavation, demolition, renovation, and new construction can be a major source of molds and fungi spores, especially Aspergillus. We take many steps to control the infection risk both during and after construction. They include not turning on new ventilation, heating, and cooling systems until the construction is essentially completed; wiping down all surfaces of the building including inside wall cavities and other areas hidden in construction; and not putting up drywall until the stud cavities are cleaned to prevent trapping dust and debris in the building. We also seal off construction areas with one-hour rated partitions, use negative air flow machines, monitor for environmental contaminants, and require all construction workers to use vacuums, sticky mats, and other cleaning tools to remove dust and debris before entering occupied parts of a medical building.
How do you see this wellness focus continuing to influence the built environment solutions that will be brought to the table going forward?
We are seeing a virtuous cycle. As wellness and population health management become more important to providers, the market is responding with building systems, tools, technologies, and products to support these efforts. Architects and builders are also bringing sustainable designs, ideas, and practices to make these physical spaces support health and wellness. In the long run, as we improve the overall health of the population, we may see less need for people to go to such traditional facilities as hospitals.