Pandemic facilities will be essential in future designs of hospitals and health facilities in Australia and Asia

By Don Marshall, Health Sector Lead – QLD, Partner at ThomsonAdsett

The long-term impact of COVID-19 will see architects required to include facilities designed to deal with pandemics into all future designs of health care facilities.

Based on our work in Asia to date, we are already seeing this in Singapore and Hong Kong and it’s my prediction Australia will be close to follow where the design of built environments will become part of our strategic and future pandemic planning and emergency preparedness in the sector.

With SARS, COVID-19 and a high number of tuberculous cases, pandemic planning has been very much front of mind in Asia when it comes to the redevelopment or development of new hospital facilities.

At ThomsonAdsett, we have extensive experience in Hong Kong and South-East Asia, delivering several high-profile architectural projects in the heath sector. We are currently working to transform Hong Kong’s health care service with the anticipated delivery of several hospital projects in the next 10 years.

Part of this work has included addressing many issues around the separation of patients with different diagnoses.

Likewise, another major South-East Asian hospital recently invited architects to provide thought on incorporating effective pandemic planning to include a decontamination area and a fever clinic as part of their future designs.

There’s no doubt health services across Australia will follow suit.

Contingency planning and discussions around repurposing wards for decontamination zones and fever clinics will become common practice. And that is where we step in.

Leveraging all forms of professional expertise and specialties is paramount to a rapid resolution of the crisis, avoiding unintended consequences in the short term, and embedding resilience in our health systems in the longer term.

Architects, and specifically health care architects, are key and valuable resources for rapid adjustments to current hospital and non-hospital infrastructure – repurposing old health care buildings, erecting temporary structures, considering the patient use from entering reception areas for administration to their end-of-care, and considering emergency preparedness in our building’s codes and design guidelines.

Functional planning during a pandemic is vital to ensuring the efficient operation of each facility, whether expanding, remodelling or building a new complex.  Current space utilisation in hospitals can be quickly evaluated to maximise existing areas for use.

We need architecture that is sustainable, flexible, adaptive, responsive and local, but without being parochial.

A waiting room for example, if designed right, can be transformed into a temporary fever clinic if there’s a pandemic.

If patients require hospitalisation according to emerging treatment for COVID-19, they will need either a room with negative air pressure with respect to other nearby spaces, or increased isolation provided by an Airborne Infection Isolation Room, or AIIR, like the rooms used to resist tuberculosis.

Existing hospital rooms may be modified to accommodate these specific air pressure requirements. However, they will require rapid and concentrated physical and operational adjustments.

The design of these environments of care matters.

As architects we need to be ready and positioned to ensure that built space has positive effects on health outcomes and how care is delivered.

Given that we are living in times where pandemics and viruses will be part of our everyday life, architects will very quickly need to adapt their thinking and future designs, particularly in the health sector.

By designing for the needs of a pandemic reality, architects act as guarantors and guardians of the public health of a community.

This story was originally published on Hospital + Healthcare.