Five questions for Rene Bont

Making hospitals futureproof

The news frequently covers hospitals going bankrupt and closing. At the same time, the population is ageing and care is needed urgently. Dated hospital real estate is often a huge cost item. According to René Bont, commercial manager Healthcare at Heijmans, there are solutions and therefore opportunities for Heijmans.

May 20, 2019

What issues is hospital real estate facing?

“Health care is changing, partly due to the fact that medical technology is changing. As a result, the duration of hospitalizations continues to decrease. This strongly affects the manner in which hospital real estate is used. There is a high vacancy rate and properties often do not meet the current technical demands. Along with personnel costs, real estate costs are a millstone around the neck of hospital boards. They do want to do something about it, but as there is often no proper business case, it is difficult to obtain bank funding.”

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How can Heijmans contribute to a solution?

“By not only focusing on real estate, but by redeveloping the whole area. For instance, you can sell parts of a piece land. Money earned from this can then be used to buy medical equipment or to build or renovate properties. For example, residential studio’s for nursing staff. If you then also create a commercial plinth in that building to accommodate, for instance, a pharmacy or physiotherapist, you can rent those places out. Of course, the sale of land will not enable you to finance everything. However, you will be able to invest your own funds, which will make the bank credit you better terms and conditions."

"We have already practiced ‘future-oriented adaptive construction’ at the Haga hospital in the Hague and the Jeroen Bosch hospital in Den Bosch. There, we were able to demonstrate our added value as an integrated area developer, with all of our specialisms coming together: the technical specialisms electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and construction as well as the work areas infra, property development and building & technology.”

Does future-oriented adaptative construction also help reduce personnel costs?

“It is definitely part of the plan. By partnering up with suppliers in the field of medical technology, we design hospitals where patients are treated efficiently. An additional benefit is that nursing staff can be accommodated nearby. This way you demand less from them and you will also need fewer staff.

By the way, we also always incorporate operating costs in the design of a building. Because you can keep construction costs very low, but if maintenance and cleaning are very expensive, it won’t be considered to be a ‘good’ building.”

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And what if area development or new-build is not an option?

“Then we can help hospitals renovate, in half the time and with only 50% of the construction workers needed on site. That is possible as we have developed modular rooms which are produced by another party off-site. Both the structural elements and installation technology have already been incorporated into the modular units. The advantage of this is that we finish much sooner and we can guarantee safe care. Our people hardly have to drill, saw or hammer on site. As a result, there is hardly any air pollution caused by building materials and there is no noise pollution.

The Amsterdam Academic Medical Centre has awarded us a provisional contract for this type of renovation. Using a ‘shift plan’ we will repeatedly create an empty department which we will work on, while it is ‘business as usual’ for the rest of the hospital.”

How do you make sure new or renovated real estate is futureproof?

“By thinking ahead. Will the building that accommodates outpatient clinics become outdated in a few years’ time? Then you can create senior apartments in it. No problem, because in general, Dutch hospitals are solid concrete structures, which can be transformed perfectly into high-quality homes. You can also modify the building according to the new energy legislation by installing solar panels and applying energy technology in order to significantly reduce energy consumption."

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"We have also made a lot of progress with smart building technology, which we incorporate into every design. For instance, together with partners we developed BeSense, a sensor system that collects data to provide insight into the usage of a building. We can use this system to connect all hospital data, which we can benefit from.

For example, it can be used to support medical staff by placing sensors in patient rooms so they can easily check if someone has stepped or fallen out of bed. In the future, data usage will only become more important. We are prepared for this.”