What is COVID-19 pandemic teaching us about our healthcare infrastructure?

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has brought almost all the countries, most of the industries, and the global economic and health systems to their knees. It has amplified many of the preexisting cracks in the system, but also spurred creativity and innovation, compassion, empathy, and some of the best traits of humankind in order to combat this health crisis.

As part of the solution against the COVID-19 threat, the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sector has also mobilized its creative forces to help the healthcare professionals in providing the much-needed hospital capacities of clean and sterile spaces where the patients can receive the life-saving treatments. Nonetheless, the proposed solutions extensively range in speed, cost, and permanence of the newly built hospital facilities.

Given the unanticipated character of the COVID-19 pandemic and ferocity with which it has swept throughout the world, rapid creation of additional intensive care capacities became the primary focus of architects and engineers within the first phase of their response. Hence, numerous designs proposed deployment and construction of alternative care facilities (ACFs). They include temporary solutions such as military field hospitals located in tent-like structures, temporary modular structures built from redesigned shipping containers, and existing buildings such as hotels, convention centers, and arenas converted into temporary healthcare facilities. However, due to their rapid erection and temporary character the ACFs are suitable only for patient triage, preliminary treatment of patients with light symptoms, or residence for uninfected yet immuno-vulnerable portion of the population.

As part of the second phase of COVID-19 response spaces are designed to provide care for the most critically ill patients. Therefore, these solutions should allow for fast and non-disruptive expansion and retrofit of existing hospital departments into intensive care units that adhere to the highest levels of hygiene and sterility. Many of the leading AEC companies and academic researchers are finding the promising solution in the technique of offsite construction where modules consisting of completely equipped medical rooms are assembled in factories and then transported on site. This method of construction allows for complete sterile rooms to be lifted by crane and placed within the existing structural grid of the hospital in a matter of hours. In addition, modular adaptable technologies are designed to reduce the life cycle costs of hospital infrastructure by creating a sustainable ecosystem where all the modules can easily be unplugged form the main structure and reused on other projects. Therefore, these technologies are exhibiting the potential for transforming our healthcare system for long-term resiliency even well after we will have successfully cured the COVID-19 pandemic.

Humankind will most certainly show strength through unity and we will victoriously overcome this pandemic crisis, but even more importantly we will be prompted to learn and improve our healthcare systems for future challenges. Hence, exciting times are ahead where new technologies will be innovated to maximize the long-term benefits of modular adaptable design and construction in providing a sustainable system with life cycle economic, social, and ecological sustainability of the future healthcare infrastructure. As Albert Einstein said, “In the Middle of Difficulty Lies Opportunityā€¯. Now it is up to all of us to work towards this brighter future!

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