What Can the US Learn from China's 10-Day Hospital Construction?

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The U.S.'s pre-fabrication and modular-construction movement watched in awe as China — responding to the current coronavirus health threat — built two sizable hospitals in a matter of days using pre-fab and modular construction strategies.

Pre-fabrication and modular building can save time and money. In the United States and around the world, construction companies use pre-fabrication and modular building as a way to accelerate healthcare facility construction and the multifamily development process.

China's state-run news agency Xinhua said Huoshenshan Hospital (1,000 beds) received its first patients Feb. 4 after 10 days of construction; Leishenshan Hosptial (1,600 beds) broke ground Jan. 25 and received its first patients on Feb. 8. Both are in Wuhan, ground zero for the coronavirus, COVID-19, and both used a modular design.

“It's impressive what's been achieved in a very short number of days in China and represents remarkable efforts not only in public health, but in logistics and in planning and architecture," Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's health emergencies program, said in a Wall Street Journal article.

The process involved inserting pre-fabricated panels into a skeleton frame built on a concrete foundation. The Wall Street Journal points out that each hospital room is depressurized, which helps prevent airborne microorganisms from spreading out of the rooms.

The two hospitals replicated a pre-fab temporary hospital in Beijing built under a similarly tight deadline in 2003 in response to the outbreak of SARS.

Rapid hospital construction raises profile of the pre-fab industry

China was wrapping up construction of its pre-fab hospitals right as 700 construction industry executives gathered in Dallas for “Advancing Prefabrication," an event in its fourth year that promotes multi-trade pre-fabrication and modular construction around the globe. This year the conference spotlighted modular and pre-fabrication gains made in Canada, Poland and the United Kingdom, among others.

In Ireland, ESS Modular just delivered that country's largest modular hospital extension: a two-story, 40-bed ward at South Tipperary General Hospital that includes a kitchen, reception and lounge areas, and staff-related rooms. It was completed in an 11-month window using offsite pre-fabrication and includes direct access to the main hospital through a central corridor.

Pre-fabrication and modular-construction gain momentum in the US

“Prefabrication and modular construction are poised to transform several sectors of the construction industry," says New Jersey-based Dodge Data & Analytics, which has published a 2020 report on the industry. “Improved schedule performance, decreased construction costs and improved quality" are top drivers for increasing the use of prefabrication and modular construction over the next three years, the report says.

The use of pre-fabrication on multifamily developments in Union City, California helped that project obtain LEED Platinum certification, according to the report. It has also been used by Advocate Aurora Health, a Midwest healthcare system with 500 outpatient centers and 28 hospitals has partnered with CannonDesign to shift to modular building on a system-wide basis for competitive advantages that include speed-to-market, cost certainty and consistent results.

Despite the many advances in pre-fab construction across the world, it still remains a marvel that China mobilized such a rapid response to treat patients with COVID-19.

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