Updating Facility Guidelines to Meet the Needs of Rural Healthcare

By Ryan Turner, AIA, EDAC, LEED AP
DSGW Principal

One size does not fit all in healthcare design.  Mark Vizenor, Facilities Director for FirstLight Health System and I are exploring this topic in our presentation —“Designing Critical Access and Rural Health Care Facilities”— at the 2017 PDC (Planning, Construction, and Design) Conference.

Although there are 1,855 rural community hospitals supporting nearly 2 million jobs, the facility needs of rural healthcare are often overlooked in policy making and code writing. In fact, our presentation is one of the first to address rural healthcare at PDC in years.

First-Hand Accounts

Essentia Health – Virgina, MN

To prepare for our talk, DSGW gathered first-hand accounts from CEOs and facilities mangers relating to facilities updating, codes compliance, and the unique challenges of rural healthcare. Some consistent themes emerge:

Geographic challenges such as recruiting, privacy and the cost for equipment servicing at a long distance.

Population Heath challenges that are now even more acute with the rise of chemical dependency.

Facilities and Technology challenges resulting from lower utilization rates for OR facilities and the relative costs of new equipment, especially in the area of scanning and imaging.

Organizational challenges in keeping up with requirements from a range of regulatory agencies.

Underfunded Facility Mandates such as the requirement to power ER and OR units 24/7 and Helipads.

Getting to the Table: Rural Input for New Solutions

Fortunately, rural healthcare leaders who cope with these challenges are also in a good position to offer new solutions. And they should be at the table when the national codes and standards for healthcare facilities are updated.

Who makes these decisions? It’s actually many of the PDC conference sponsors including:

Rural healthcare CEOs, facility managers, and medical staff should be more strongly represented in these groups and in the code writing process. Such leaders are directly aware of code challenges and new opportunities in telehealth, remote monitoring, and staffing efficiency that can transform facility design. Ultimately, our goal in speaking at PDC is to have greater representation for an overlooked segment of American healthcare from the people who know it best.