Why designing and caring for healthcare workers is more important than ever before

There is no doubt that the current COVID-19 pandemic will impact and change our healthcare system for many years to come. It has become clear over the past several weeks that a demand surge of this magnitude disrupts everything from our supply chain to our operations to our strategic initiatives. Health systems have rallied around this call to action and challenged their teams to be leaders during this unprecedented time. As designers, planners, and engineers who work day in and day out with this industry, what can we do to help?

Support in creating surge capacity.

Many of my healthcare design colleagues have shared exceptional perspectives on how facilities and the physical environment play critical roles in this type of event. From repurposing non-clinical space within the health system to converting empty hotels into healthcare space, everything is on the table as we continue to react to the growing demand. I specifically appreciate the thorough perspective shared in Architecture – A Critical Ingredient of Pandemic Medicine.

Capture lessons to carry forward.

What can we learn from this event? How can we help our clients be prepared? At our firm, we are gathering reference articles/blogs, sharing ideas, and personally journaling to capture this moment for future reflection. We want to build a resource library that can support client engagements long after the media cycle has moved to another subject. In Is There a Silver Lining to COVID 19, Sheila Cahnman, FAIA, asks, “can this mobilization spur a rethinking of processes and healthcare settings, boosting new ideas that are just beginning to take hold and reinvigorating best practices?”

Increased focus on human capital.

There are people on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Imagine we can solve the space issues so that we have room to house the sickest patients. Imagine we can fix the supply chain issues so that we have the equipment and materials needed to provide care. What happens when we run out of caregivers? What happens when caregivers suffer from immense burnout?

As designers, we understand the impact our spaces have on the people who inhabit them. As I see the outpouring of support online for the men and women who are working tirelessly to keep our healthcare system running, I reflect on the compromises we often make when balancing “productive” patient care space and clinical “support” space. When we get past the current challenge, let’s recommit ourselves to providing exceptional staff care space:

  1. Dedicated respite spaces. Beyond breakrooms, let’s make sure the staff has places to recharge that fit them. This could be a quiet room (or pod) to take a break, facetime with family, or meditate.
  2. Provide views outside. Move our clinical teams to the exterior walls, so they have access to windows throughout the day.
  3. Consider the health impact of lighting. From windows to skylights to circadian lighting, commit to improving the working environment for staff.
  4. Balance collaboration with focus. As clinical teams get larger, flexible workspaces for collaboration continue to be popular and essential. We must remember everyone works differently and having offstage space for focused work improves clinical outcomes.

Life after COVID-19 will be different. We will learn a lot of lessons about disaster preparedness, temporary care facilities, and infection control. Let’s not miss the opportunity to take care of those who took care of us.


Read on: What Healthcare Can Learn from Traditional Office Spaces.