Our last in-person client meeting was Friday, March 13, 2020. The project was an Outpatient Medical Oncology and Infusion Center that was already under an accelerated project delivery schedule with a health system looking to open the new center by the end of 2020. We have a regulatory submission scheduled for April 17. Understanding the pandemic would most likely be a huge disruption over the next few months, the health system’s hope was that we would be able to get the project into the state for the lengthy approval process for the ultimate delivery of much-needed patient services.
To expedite the design process, we held an all-day design development charrette to meet with stakeholders from all disciplines to gather information to advance the design and move into final construction documentation. This day also included the presentation of the interior design for the project. Over the course of the week leading up to this charrette, we watched the impact of the pandemic unfold and wondered if we would be able to keep the project on track?
We held our meetings that day in the hospital’s senior administration suite. Understandably, we witnessed great distraction throughout the day. We were amazed to get the attention of the laboratory stakeholders, knowing they were frantically trying to arrange for COVID-19 testing sites, while their regulatory protocols were still unclear. Sidebar conversations were happening, putting our design team on standby to assist in future planning for temporary COVID-19 sites, and we were all just beginning to understand the concepts of social distancing.
It was a very successful day, but we all sensed things were about to change dramatically. The key decision-maker was detained out of the country and unable to join us that day. Under normal circumstances, the presentation of the interior design is one of the few that we still try to have in person. It is tactile and often the thing that people have a more tangible reaction to. NORR’s solution? We presented to those that were present that day and then left the interior finish palate of materials behind, anticipating the stakeholders return the following week.
Fortunately, NORR has been working closely with this health system over the last four years, establishing very thorough design guidelines for programming, planning and design standards for their outpatient facilities, including MEP systems and medical equipment. The client had the forethought to spend the time to thoughtfully analyze the successful elements of their facilities and invest in the documentation of it. The initial intent of the standards was to be able to quickly, and efficiently roll out a consistent and cost-effective design of outpatient practice suites throughout their health system with limited interaction and decision-making required with end users. The document is fluid and ever evolving, but its very existence is a testament to a commitment to efficiency and consistency. The guidelines establish a baseline and an expectation of quality.
The medical oncology and infusion center project falls into a category that warrants upgraded design response for finishes and details to the standards; however, the ethos of the design is rooted in the standards. It represents an approach that the design team was confident to go forward with. We knew we could simply review the interior design presentation with the stakeholders via a virtual meeting the following week.
The following Monday (NORR’s first full day of social distancing) our design team, all sitting in our respective home offices, with the assistance of the hospital’s project manager met with the stakeholders. As the two of them sat in the same room, while maintaining appropriate social distancing, we reviewed the interior design for the new center.
It was fascinating to witness it unfold; the finishes, laid out before the call began, the key stakeholder had a chance to see them without our added narrative. Before we began, he indicated that he was under-whelmed by what he was looking at. Incidentally, we had received a very good response to the same presentation with all his colleagues the Friday before.
The design team persisted and presented the visual graphic materials, describing the design story for the project. We were fortunate to have the hospital’s project manager in the room with him to assist periodically to identify specific materials and clarify.
The sophisticated 3D graphic tools that NORR’s designers and architects use, greatly helped to convey the design intent elegantly. They were able to illustrate not only the beautiful design of the new medical oncology and infusion center, but convey how the very specific selections that were before him were selected to create the exact patient-centric experience that had been requested during the visioning session we held at the onset of the project. By the end of the virtual meeting, the key stakeholder not only approved the design, he was excited about it. This was a make or break moment for the advancement of this project. We had immediate deadlines looming. This approval was imperative to keep this important healthcare project moving forward.
There have since been more exchanges between all stakeholders to review medical equipment and coordination of building services through emails virtual meetings. We are able to continue with the project because of the existence of robust standards. As new players are added, on both the owner and the consultant side, decisions can be made, and time can be saved with confidence because of this document. We now focus on a few very specific items, with no time wasted on the basics.
This example of utilizing facility standards may be closer to the new normal our clients may need to consider as they begin to address methods to keep projects going in this age of COVID-19 and other significant disrupters to design delivery. Some health systems have simply chosen to stop all project work, recognizing that they do not have the resources internally or even the space to coordinate with end users and hold in person meetings. The more sophisticated clients have already adapted to new ways, utilizing design hours more effectively and reserving staff resources by holding virtual meetings from their own workstations. Our workflow continues to evolve to make the most of the client’s valuable time. We are finding it easier to get participation from the stakeholders when they need to weigh in at the right time, allowing projects to move along more swiftly. Our interactive 3D design tools assist in effectively conveying design intent. The relationships with design consultants as the trusted advisor will be more than important than ever. Clients will see the design team not as a consultant, but as an extension of their organization, supporting their goals and mission.