Most hospitals weren’t prepared to treat the sudden surge in very sick, contagious COVID-19 patients. Most notably, they were not ready to instantly isolate possible coronavirus carriers. Most beds, general hospital rooms and surgical suites couldn’t be quickly converted into temporary intensive-care unit beds. The number of existing ICU beds, like hospital beds generally, have been in slow, steady decline.
The biggest lesson we can learn from a design perspective is the need for modern hospitals to increase their flexibility in order to better accommodate sudden surges of patients. Many hospitals have been running out of space and resources to treat COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms, while at the same time handling those with mild symptoms and the asymptomatic who may infect health care workers and other patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed resiliency challenges that haven’t been seen before. Primarily, the dependence on disposables is not effective during a crisis. Facilities need to plan for in-house sterilization and material reuse beyond today’s current practices. There is also a concern that all of the ramped-up cleaning will increase the speed in which resistant “superbugs” are created.
Adaptability saves Lives
Today’s hospitals should be planned with future flexibility in mind, so that they have the capability to transform in response to new needs without astronomical price tags.
It may not be a cure-all, but creating multi-use functionality throughout a healthcare facility will allow for quicker, smoother responses to surges in patients. These types of spaces are capable of serving many different functions as needed with limited or zero change to tangible building attributes. More versatile spaces such as these will give people agency over how spaces are used, and allow for a better response to future pandemics.