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What’s the Prognosis? A Healthcare A/E/C Checkup

Fueled by the increasing demands for healthcare services from an aging population, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and the need to keep up with the new developments in medical technologies and healthcare laws, healthcare institutions remain a growing economic force. These factors have affected construction delivery methods and A/E/C selection processes by healthcare providers.

I spoke with three healthcare facilities professionals and three senior A/E/C industry leaders at an SMPS Northern New England event, and asked them how healthcare clients and consultants create successful working relationships.

As we all know, this is a business based on relationships. What is the best way to build a relationship with healthcare professionals/owners?

Client owners look for partners they can trust; honesty is critical. Be on time with promised deliveries, and don’t offer a service that can’t be performed. As a service provider, know who you are and convey that effectively with the client. Experience is important, so be sure to pitch the actual consultants who will work on the project.

What is the most helpful thing a potential client/owner can do for a service provider?

Please be honest and tell consultants your level of interest in developing a relationship and sharing actual opportunities. Show a willingness to engage and be responsive when needed.

What are the best things that have been done by a service provider to earn your relationship?

The best projects are the result of a partnership between service provider and owner. Service providers need to understand the culture of their client and have candid conversations about project delivery. Share project experiences as a team and educate each other on best practices. While delivering a project on time and on budget is a given, end the project on a positive note by setting at the beginning reasonable expectations that can be achieved, or better, exceeded. Maintain the client relationship by inviting clients to do joint presentations and marketing to promote a successful project.

What kind of projects will healthcare owners be looking to carry out in the near future?

Healthcare is moving towards a managed population health versus fee for service model. Healthcare providers are seeing more acute care and less chronic care patients, increasing the need for more medical office buildings and fewer hospitals now, but that will change in the future as baby boomers continue to age. Facilities are looking for more space for mental health needs that are not being met.

What types of marketing do owners like to see?

Less is more: be concise in your text and don’t churn out boilerplate materials. Conduct your due diligence about the specific project at hand, and provide a visual representation of what you’re trying to convey. Show that you understand the client’s needs.

Before the RFP is even received, however, you first need to build the relationship to remain competitive. The proposal is the last step. If you make it to the interview phase, be sure to practice your presentation. Any company that makes it to the interview can do the job, but you need to win over the client in the interview. Introduce the team that will work on the project to make sure there’s chemistry. In a small service provider community, it is essential that you deliver what you promise and always try to do the right thing at the right time. A negative client experience can reverberate and hurt you in the future. Remember, it’s a small world and bad news travels fast.

How did the economic downturn affect your construction pipeline? Do you feel that you have recovered?

For some hospitals, patient volumes declined as residents lost their jobs, so they took the opportunity to do more long-range planning. Hospitals were forced to break large multi-million dollar upgrades into smaller pieces with a bigger impact. They did more renovations and less new construction, and leveraged the situation to negotiate lower costs on material and labor. Hospitals are still holding back and are in maintenance mode right now. While some architects lost major jobs during the downturn, most consulting firms were able to make their budgets and continue steady growth.

What do you foresee as future healthcare trends?

Healthcare overall is becoming much more patient-focused, as providers try to create a one-stop-shop for patients. Because centralized functions help drive down operating costs, we will continue to see location consolidations. We will likely see fewer new hospitals and more medical offices with outpatient services. There is a push in some areas for telecare and camera communications between experts as well.

Most future needs will be dependent on the needs of the growing and aging baby boomers. The primary focus will be on keeping patients out of the hospital, so only the most infirmed use those resources. There’s a big push for single patient rooms.

Lastly, psychiatric service demands are significantly higher than available providers and funding, so this specialty will need massive ramping up. To do so, many doctor’s offices are bringing mental health service clinicians into their practices.

Thanks to the panelists who provided insight:

  • Rick Albert, Director of Engineering and Plant Operations at MaineGeneral Medical Center
  • Domenic Ciavarro, VP of Facilities at Concord Hospital (NH)
  • Dan Bickford, Regional Director of Engineering at Central Maine Medical Center
  • Ellen Belknap, President, SMRT Architects and Engineers
  • Dave Thomas, Project Executive at Consigli Construction
  • Bill Johnson, Client Development Manager at Terracon Consultants

After this panel discussion event, SMPS Northern New England made donations to each of the three participating hospitals to thank the panelists for participating.


Susan Shelby, FSMPS, CPSM, is the president and CEO of Rhino Public Relations, a full-service PR and marketing agency focused on meeting the unique needs of professional services firms. Rhino PR offers customized services based on each individual client’s goals and budget. Susan received the 2016 SMPS Boston Marketing Professional of the Year Award, which honors marketing excellence in the A/E/C industry. Follow her @RhinoPRBoston or visit for more information about how Rhino PR can help you take charge of your PR.

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