Lerch Bates Inc. Building Insight

Global Leaders in Technical Consulting for the Building Industry

The Logistics Labyrinth

I love puzzles. Especially the maze type puzzles. You know the ones that have endless branches and pathways that lead you into dead ends. I seem to have a natural instinct to visualize the correct path from the start all the way to the finish line. The greater the complexity of the maze, then better the personal challenge.

I felt this way until I visited a client who had a hospital nearing the century mark in age. Like a multi-tentacle monster, the hospital had grown from a central building into a large, multiple armed (building) complex. Trying to insure good horizontal circulation, the owner had linked all buildings with tunnels, sky bridges, covered walkways, connecting corridors or a combination of all of the above.

Hospital expansions had been opportunistic over the years. Meaning; if the hospital had money, then they could find someone to build onto the existing structure. Expansions are typically dictated by the following criteria:

  • Available Funding
  • Available Property
  • Plot Size
  • Building Code Constraints
  • Profitability (operations within the proposed expansion)

Back to my story:

In most hospitals, my client, the Director of Facilities, resides in the back of the hospital on either the ground or basement floor.  I decided to park in the back of the hospital to shorten my walking distance. After entering the facility I found that I was in the wrong building. No big deal!  All I had to do is to follow the horizontal linkages going back to the main hospital. After about fifteen minutes I thought that it probably would have helped if the facility had invested into some better campus wide way finding. But I didn’t care, I love mazes.

After meandering around the campus for another twenty minutes I decided to look for the cafeteria to pick up some bread slices and water.  (I could leave bread crumbs along the way in case I got lost again. The water was to insure that I would not get dehydrated during my long arduous journey). It wasn’t quite that bad, but I did miss my scheduled appointment. I finally cried uncle and call my client asking for some friendly assistance. I gave him my coordinates and within minutes he was escorting me back to his office.

We finally got down to business and the topic was of no surprise. The opportunistic expansion of the hospital over the years had exceeded the capability of the original hospital infrastructures. (Elevator capacity, support services capacities, etc.).  Elevator wait times could be as long as five minutes.  In addition, everything that had to move (food, supplies, linen, waste, pharmaceuticals, etc.) followed long scurrilous routes through the campus. Transport labor costs were high and kept increasing.  All of this while employee and patient satisfaction kept declining.  He asked “What could be done to help alleviate this problem?” This is not an unusual issue faced by long established and successful hospitals.

The answer was simple. The hospital needed a “Master Transport and Circulation” study. This study examines everything that has to move within the hospital and the existing systems assisting in their movement. The study identifies if the needs of the hospital were being met.  In the case of this facility the answer was a resounding “No”. However, once the deficiencies are identified, then a range of solutions can be identified. The range of solutions can include:

  • System / equipment modernization
  • System / equipment additions
  • Changes in operational schedule and hours
  • Architectural alterations
  • A combination of any and all of the above

The most important advice I can give is:

An owner should understand how a proposed expansion will impact the functions of the existing facility.  These issues need to be resolved before the expansion is built and not left until someone complains.  Not everyone loves a puzzle.

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