How has the pandemic changed or accelerated construction projects in the healthcare sector?
Pacini: The pandemic underscored the importance of essential construction projects. At the beginning, all construction was halted — even critical projects. This hard stop gave healthcare developers time to regroup and reposition themselves for a post-pandemic world. As soon as projects were greenlighted, the need to deliver was immediate. The current backlog of projects is still causing schedule crunches in our sector.
The pandemic also fundamentally changed how immediate care facilities operate. While the operational changes (like waiting in your car to be called for your appointment) may be temporary, many changes may become the new standard. HVAC design — how air enters and leaves the facility, how it is cleaned and recycled through — is incredibly important. We see changes like this as positive outcomes from the pandemic that will keep people healthier and prevent the spread of disease.
How has hospital design changed in the last decade and how is that impacting constructability, delivery and/or schedules?
Pacini: The size of buildings has grown significantly. A 40,000-square-foot MOB used to be big and today a typical MOB averages between 60,000 and 75,000 square feet. What is housed in the building has also changed — more departments like immediate care, physical therapy, women’s services, imaging, lab services, and cancer care are all found under one roof. Buildings are aesthetically more pleasing too. Architects are designing spaces with more glass, more natural light, and more focus on creature comforts for patients and staff. We even see an infusion of regional flair — with nods to local history or native flora and fauna.
What remains unchanged is the increased focus on speed to market. Healthcare is in a major turf war and speed to market is huge. Prefabrication and modular building is continuing to build steam as well. We are building components — headwalls, MEP systems, doors and hardware — offsite which improves quality, reduces congestion on the jobsite and saves time. Tech is powering all this. Field staff are equipped with iPads and can push updates to all the trades immediately. No one is carrying around the wrong set of drawings.
Sustainability has taken center stage in other verticals. What green building initiatives are you seeing in the healthcare sector?
Pacini: Healthcare construction has always had high standards for sustainability, especially in new construction hospitals and medical campuses. Recently more MOBs are pursuing sustainable initiatives in an effort to reduce their energy consumption. As energy prices continue to escalate and the grid in many parts of the country becomes more stressed, we expect to incorporate renewable energy systems into more projects, which help provide resilience and redundancy.
How is the supply chain impacting healthcare projects and what’s being done to overcome present challenges?
Knowing early in the process what the pain points will be is critical. Project teams must pin down where everything is coming from and when it will be delivered — from rooftop units and generators to door frames and plumbing fixtures. Right now the most volatility is with critical infrastructure equipment where delays can really impact the schedule. With 45 years of relationships, we’ve been able to lean on alternative manufacturers to keep things on schedule.
Beyond materials and goods, the construction industry is also managing unprecedented shortages in skilled labor. Much like other industries — restaurants, retail, and hospitality — employee shortages have had an impact. We’re applying the same proactive approach we use to overcome supply chain challenges to our people pipeline. We look at staffing forecasts well ahead of job starts, seek to develop our current team with mentorship and training opportunities and keep an eye out for the right players to add to the team whether the need is now or in the near future.
How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact the way that healthcare professionals (pharmacists, providers and more) serve patients?
Brad Ulrich: The pandemic caused a shift in the way consumers think about their pharmacists and the role they play in their health. Pharmacists were often seen as the main resource around vaccination information and COVID prevention. This has strengthened the relationship consumers have with their local Walgreens pharmacists and has now set an expectation for pharmacists to play an even bigger role in their healthcare services.
Now, Walgreens is laying the groundwork for new areas of pharmacist care, including testing and treating routine illness, providing comprehensive care for chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma, solving adherence barriers and supporting health equity. We believe that enabling our pharmacy professionals to focus on these activities for which they are licensed, explore new career opportunities, and provide expanded patient care not only helps us better serve our communities but allows for more fulfilling and purpose-driven work for our team members. Is there an opportunity for pharmacies/pharmacists to continue playing a bigger role in their patients’ healthcare, particularly in the chronic disease management and immunization spaces?
Ulrich: There is a huge opportunity for pharmacists to play an even bigger role in patients’ lives. This past year, 253 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered by pharmacies, and we’ve seen more patients turn to their local pharmacists to help them understand and manage their chronic conditions. We are leveraging the technology and tools to create efficiencies that allow our pharmacists to focus on providing more clinical services, driving greater medication adherence and establishing more meaningful connections with patients and providers. In states where it’s allowed, we are piloting programs that include HIV testing and prescribing PReP, upper respiratory tests and treatments, and programming supporting asthma and COPD patients.
What kinds of efforts are you putting in place to recruit and retain staff with the current national labor shortage?
Ulrich: The U.S. healthcare system is under significant strain, facing a shortage of primary care physicians, a rapidly aging population, unequal access to care and spiraling costs. With pharmacists’ clinical expertise, accessibility, and intimate knowledge of the communities they serve, they can play an important role in filling gaps in care, reducing costs and improving patient outcomes. At Walgreens, we are expanding pharmacists’ ability to practice skills that draw on the reasons they went into pharmacy to begin with. We’re enabling greater patient engagement and care and improving inventory management to enhance the customer experience all while expanding our pipeline of future community leaders as part of the patients’ overall care team.