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Design Considerations for Turning Vacant Patient Rooms into Surge Space

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In the past few weeks we’ve seen the healthcare system do some unprecedented things. For example, with hospital beds reaching extremely high utilization rates across the nation, providers are being allowed to practice in other states so long as they hold an equivalent license. With utilization rates climbing upward by the day, some hospitals may be in a position to utilize previously vacated space within their existing facilities. Most healthcare systems have allocated spaces with their facilities for future growth, typically coined “shelled” areas, which may be the ideal location to provide additional patient care spaces for the current pandemic. In all reality, the likelihood that these spaces could be designed, engineered, constructed and certified into use for the current situation is low. Given that the time required to properly design a patient care area, build the space and obtain regulatory approvals typically exceeds 6 months, a much more feasible option should be explored.

Enter the vacated patient wing once used before your current facility opened. Throughout the years, EUA has surveyed over 3 million square feet of healthcare facilities, providing detailed code analyses of the existing conditions for clients while reviewing above and below ceiling conditions. Many times, these facilities have older patient care wings that have been closed due to a multitude of reasons, whether it be the addition of newer up to date patient care areas, reallocating staffing or a reduction in patient visits. More times than not, facilities are required to maintain these “shuttered” areas due to existing life safety measures that are required by various codes, regulations and agencies such as CMS and Joint Commission.

If these areas have been maintained per the originally approved construction documents, regulatory agency approvals and preventive maintenance requirements, these spaces may be the perfect locations to provide “swing” or “surge” patient care areas. Provided a facility has not officially removed previously utilized patient rooms from their reported bed counts, changed operating licenses or lapsed certifications, it should be relatively easy to re-activate previously underutilized spaces.

Here are a few things to consider before utilizing a previously vacated patient care area:

This list is not exhaustive of all the measures that are required to ensure a successful reopening of a shuttered patient care area, but is intended to provide guidance on the major systems and areas that would require the most attention. The introduction of potential swing or surge rooms can put healthcare providers in a unique position to be able to provide care when certain events require additional patient care spaces with short notice of high demand. If you have vacant space that may be available for patient care, EUA is here to help.

Nick Gates, RA, NCARB
Senior Project Architect : Associate

Nick Gates, RA, NCARB, is a Senior Project Architect and Associate with EUA. He works out of the Milwaukee office as a member of the Healthcare Studio. When he's not in the office, Nick likes to golf and work on cars.