Healthcare Design regularly invites healthcare design professionals to share what’s on their minds in our “Take 5” column. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 and its impact on the industry were dominant discussions this year, but other topics, including resiliency, community health, and building materials, garnered attention, as well. Read on for more of what was on the industry’s radar in 2020.

Changing construction safety requirements
Across the U.S., construction contractors have had to adjust to new safety requirements considering COVID-19 within short timeframes. These guidelines differ by state and city and are often updated or changed to keep in line with new and developing safety measures to fight against the spread of the virus.

Contractors have survived by being nimble, swift, and resourceful, such as adding personnel to sites, expanding existing site personnel responsibilities to ensure compliance, or staggering work shifts to enforce social distancing. Read moreRichard Simone, CEO and president, Central Consulting & Contracting (New York and Florida)

Proximity and access in support of equity
The last six months have shown us that health is a great equalizer and that the health of our communities impacts our entire social fabric. Vulnerable populations have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19—often affected first and most acutely with limited access to care.

Healthcare designers can be a part of the solution by supporting our client’s mission to provide care with neighborhood proximity and accessibility for underserved populations. Recent concepts have included micro-clinics in low-income neighborhoods, which involved the adaptive reuse of commercial space at street level and pop-up booths for mental health services in outdoor community spaces. It’s time to shed the default of “the more square footage and funds the better” and instead re-examine the networks we are creating. Read moreBrenda Smith, former nurse and health practice leader, Perkins&Will (New York)

Embodied carbon in building materials
As the timeline for us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in order to avert the worst-case scenarios for climate change gets shorter, it’s become increasingly important that we not just focus on the energy consumption of our buildings but also on the embodied carbon that’s emitted through the extraction, manufacture, and transport of our building materials. The three biggest offenders—concrete, steel, and aluminum—account for 11 percent of global greenhouse emissions. We’ve heard a lot about mass timber structures, but we have a long way to go before that’s a viable strategy for all healthcare projects.

In the meantime, we need to get smarter about reducing the embodied carbon in concrete structures, which can typically be accomplished by reducing the mass of structural systems (which also saves money) and variable cement mixes. Read moreEllen Mitchell Kozack, vice president and chief sustainability officer, Leo A Daly (Dallas).

The robots are coming
Already, delivery robots (about the size of a mini-fridge) can be found delivering pills, bringing lunch to patients, and transporting samples and medical equipment to different labs. It may come as a surprise that most hospitals and medical offices are already architecturally ready for robotic use, because they’ve already been designed for wheelchair accommodations, which require a similar circumference clearance. This has enabled health systems to more easily integrate robotics into the care environment.

For instance, Texas Medical Center leveraged germ-killing robots to fight coronavirus, and robots were used to deliver meals and medication to COVID-19 patients in Singapore to reduce exposure of healthcare workers. Read moreKimberly Lamb, executive director, healthcare solutions, JLL (Chicago)

Resilience must stretch beyond hospitals
Our ability to successfully handle our next health-related crisis will depend in large part on the adaptable designs of buildings not principally designed for healthcare needs. The pressures of COVID-19 suggest that we need to design more flexibility, adaptability, and resilience into the built environment.

Think polyvalent function—how can our sports stadiums, hotels, and similar structures be designed to allow them to be easily repurposed to handle health-related needs? How do we adapt public space to allow for more outdoor functions or more ways to access buildings to limit contact with others? More than any previous crisis, this pandemic has mandated the need to re-examine different types of buildings under a new lens. Read moreChris McQuillan, healthcare principal, B+H Architects (Toronto)