MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was nearly swallowed up 17 years ago by Tropical Storm Allison.
The center went through extensive master planning and secured $30 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help prepare it for the next catastrophic storm. This time it worked.
During Hurricane Harvey last year, the medical center was walled off from the majority of the flooding. It did experience some damage, but nothing compared to Allison, Spencer Moore, chief facilities officer at the center, told attendees at the U.S. News Healthcare of Tomorrow conference in D.C. last week.
MD Anderson was protected by a series of 76 flood gates, Moore said, a key element in its new design.
"All of the investment that we made … did come to save us a lot of money and save the people of Texas and Houston a lot of money," Moore said.
Hospitals have long been wary of the damage and disruption a hurricane can cause. In the past couple of years, storms like Florence, Harvey and Maria have sent administrators and doctors scrambling to accommodate emergency situations. Just last month, Hurricane Michael forced multiple hospitals in the Florida Panhandle to evacuate and put off procedures.
Even after patients are safe and cleanup begins, the costs linger for health systems. In Q3 2017, chains like HCA and Tenet reported a dip in earnings in the aftermath of intense and damaging storms.
But master planning goes beyond preparing for Mother Nature's worst. As mergers continue at a breakneck pace, organizations are weighing how to harmonize all the physical assets of a combined company.
"How does this all fit and work together? That's a lot of the thinking and planning that I'm seeing nationally," Robert Langheim, a partner at Whitecap Health Advisors, said at the conference.
Organizations must also be willing to evaluate whether they need to close lower-performing facilities they acquire, Charles Griffin, healthcare sector leader at EYP, said.
Before committing to new capital projects, an organization should stick to a few major tenets, Langheim outlined:
- Use capital asset investment to enable institutional strategy, not lead institutional strategy.
- Seek to maximize existing assets before committing to new capital.
- With new builds, take into account strategic, operational, facility, and financial assessments and considerations.
- Include rigorous financial planning.
Planning needs to also include more than direct patient care. Matthew Schaefer, chief operating officer of Children's Hospital of New Orleans, said his organization is creating plans for family housing units, a hotel on campus, greens space and low-cost dining options.
As the future of healthcare remains uncertain, Langheim said it's important that leaders remain skeptical about anyone overly confident in what's ahead.