We’ve all had experiences where having an internal storeroom of resilience has come in handy. Sick kids, overwhelming workloads, training for a marathon, the loss of a loved one—all of these things and thousands more can push us to our limits, causing us to find an inner strength that allows us to pick up, dust off, start over, and thrive.

In many ways, as long as the challenges aren’t never-ending, they can actually be important growth opportunities, pushing us to find new solutions we hadn’t yet tried and helping us to see the positive aspects that arise from changes and challenges.

Over the past decade or two, resilience in our built environment has proven to be equally important. Hurricane Sandy devastating New York in 2012, an earthquake leveling Haiti in 2010, and a SARS outbreak overwhelming Toronto in 2003 are just a few examples of events that tested our healthcare systems’ ability not only to make it through a disaster without a disruption in services, but to then act as a beacon for the community during the immediate aftermath.

On the flip side, in many cases, these pressures exposed significant weaknesses in our systems and buildings that led to epic failures and sometimes collapse.

None of us has a crystal ball, but it’s fair to say that in the life of a healthcare building, it will likely be challenged in ways that go beyond the borders of the norm. The decisions we make as we design and build the next generation of healthcare spaces will have direct consequences on how well the bricks and mortar and systems put in place will stand up to these challenges. The nuts-and-bolts issues of building resiliency have been well covered in the pages of Healthcare Design and in presentations and case studies at the Healthcare Design Expo & Conference. Gathering the knowledge of where others have been successful and where they have not is easy, even if knowing all the eventualities of what you need to be planning for may not be.

What’s new to the conversation is the role that our healthcare buildings play in the overall resilience of a community, its people, and their ability to thrive and be healthy on a daily basis—allowing them to weather the storm, both figuratively and literally. The shift from a healthcare system focused on curing illness to a system that’s focused on preventing illness has raised the bar and provided a new set of opportunities for those responsible, in one way or another, for designing and running healthcare facilities.

We need to continue to push to create healthcare spaces that don’t solely house traditional healthcare services, but are part of a larger conversation on how we design our cities and the role healthcare buildings play in that plan. Can they be part of park systems, offering easy access to information and preventive care but also walking trails that are safe and integrated into the community? Is there access to fresh, nutritious, high-quality food? In many communities, healthcare facilities are doing just that.

We need to continue to expand our focus on healthy communities and the role the built environment plays in accelerating and sustaining them, because healthy communities are resilient communities, and resilient communities will thrive over the long run and help reduce financial burdens on our overstressed healthcare system.

The payback can be enormous because, in the end, healthcare design at its core is about improving (and prolonging) the quality of life.


Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at dlevin@healthdesign.org