From telemedicine’s embrace to measures taken to avoid COVID-19 cases overtaking facilities, hospitals have been reshaped by a rush of pandemic trends.
You can count on Bill Colgan, managing partner at CHA Partners, knowing something about reshaping hospitals.
His firm has been focused since its 2008 inception on taking once-shuttered hospitals and reopening them with a new purpose. And there have been myriad opportunities for that.
Colgan, who has spent his almost three-decade career in health care, can say that when he first started — before a number of health care facilities across the state fell into financial ruin and were forced to abruptly close their doors — there were 115 acute care hospitals in the state.
“And in my tenure in health care (and at CHA), we’ve now gone under 70,” he said. “We’re getting close to half of these facilities going by the wayside in my professional career.”
What’s been apparent to him from the start was that the inpatient environment was going to continue to consolidate, not just because large health systems have centered their efforts on certain geographies and patient bases, but because the number of days patients spend in inpatient environments was diminishing — and continues to.
“It’s easily understood, and it’s a trend that will continue: We’re becoming more efficient in health care, we have different levels of providers and we have a lot of advancements in technology procedures things that would’ve required a lot more invasive surgeries and long hospital recoveries in the past,” he said.
CHA has been one of the sole New Jersey firms focused entirely on redeveloping these shuttered acute care hospitals. The good news, for Colgan, is that this work has shown the potential to restore employment opportunities lost in the abandonment of inpatient facilities.
“If you look historically over the five hospitals we’ve done, we keep about three jobs for every 1,000 square feet of health care,” he said. “So, we have 900 jobs preserved as a result of filling some specific voids that would not be solved if the facility were closed.”
One of its latest projects was a medical arts complex opened in 2019 in Rockaway Beach, New York, conceived of as a way to replenish services lost when a local hospital was closed in the wake of Hurricane Sandy a decade ago. It also recently got involved in helping St. Joseph’s Health expand its footprint with a ground-up medical office construction in Totowa.
But the firm’s concentration is usually on finding a new life for already-existing facilities, such as its 120-unit apartment building repositioning of the former Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield.
When those facilities are restored to a medical use today, there are a number of new considerations for how they might be updated to meet the needs of a health care industry that has a heightened emphasis on infection control, Colgan said.
“For example, we’re now dealing with a situation in which we may need to design buildings with 100% air exchange,” he said. “With those types of designs, on an 8-degree day, trying to take that and heat to an ambient 72-degree temperature is quite a challenge.”
During the pandemic, more space is being called for between patients, staff and visitors in the various parts of a hospital than these facilities ever were designed for, Colgan said.
There’s a different type of acute care center that’s going to be ideal for providers today, but Colgan is confident his firm will be capable of accounting for such changes — even with the facilities of yesterday as a starting point.
“We have the expertise for it,” he said.