Flad Architects

Designing Flexibility for Pandemic Response

Local surges in the need for medical care worldwide are creating a demand for isolation units where patients with COVID-19 can remain during their isolation period. New, innovative ways to increase isolation unit capacity are being developed and implemented out of necessity daily throughout the ever-changing conditions of the pandemic.

Never has it been clearer that built-in flexibility for rapid response to emergencies is a necessity in healthcare facility design. Considering this, the Flad team has immediately begun augmenting our approach to flexibility in healthcare design. As one example, our team has been working with an academic health system, renovating an upper level floor to create adult intensive care unit (ICU) rooms. The project recently went out for bid, with construction slated to begin this fall. Due to lessons learned from the novel coronavirus pandemic, we began discussing adjusting the ICU plans prior to the start of construction to increase facility flexibility for potential future pandemic conditions.

Because this project is on the upper level of the hospital with new air handling units (AHUs) planned in the renovation, we proposed a means to switch the AHUs from their normal operation with return air systems to an emergency mode that alters the airflow to exhaust to dedicated fans on the roof. This solution would temporarily set the ICU area into a negative "purge" mode to address pandemic needs.

In addition to the potential AHU modifications, we are investigating the current ICU plans to ascertain where any temporary architectural features (i.e., walls and doors), may need to be added to provide accommodations for staff gowning at the entrances to the provisional isolation units created by rebalancing the AHUs.

Now is the time to reconsider how we can balance designing healthcare facilities to be open and accessible to the public, while also implementing controls to reduce the spread of infectious diseases and allow for rapid pivots during emerging situations through a calm, confident, and designed-in plan.

April 02, 2020