Nashville’s Health Care Industry and Modular Building: How the Two Can Work Together
The Health Care Industry Capital
Designated as the nation’s health care industry capital, Nashville is the critical hub of hospitals, medical schools, insurances companies, medical research, and healthcare facilities. Nearly 400 health care companies have operations in Nashville and 18 publicly traded health care companies are located in Nashville. The most recent economic impact study released by the Nashville Health Care Council shows that Tennessee’s state capital plays a huge regional and national role in the health care landscape.
The health care industry is Nashville’s largest and fastest growing employer. Nashville’s health care industry has contributed:
- $38.8 billion to the region’s economy (an increase of nearly 33% from 2010)
- more than 250,000 jobs to the local economy annually (an 18% increase from 2010)
Keeping a Pulse on Ever Expanding Industry
“Nashville is a city under construction.” This statement by the local newspaper, The Tennessean, is no exaggeration. In 2015 alone, Nashville issued more than $2.4 billion in building permits, with $1.8 billion of construction activity already in progress, which includes several hospital expansion projects.
Nationwide, architects and construction companies expect to see continued growth in the construction of healthcare facilities, predicting everything from “slow but steady” to “strong” growth outlooks. The biggest opportunities lie in the construction of outpatient facilities, as ambulatory care centers remain critical to the processes of patient diagnosis, consultation, treatment, and rehabilitation. In addition to ground-up, outpatient building, expansion of inpatient hospital facilities also remains a priority as investors and stakeholders understand the need to bring their facilities to state-of-the-art levels.
Modular construction can be an advantage in an industry where time is of the essence. Typically, modular construction projects are completed 30-50% sooner than traditional stick-built construction. Modular medical buildings are, for the most part, built off-site, relying on assembly-line construction methods. As modules (individual sections of the building) are completed, they are delivered to the final job site for final assembly. The efficiencies that come from site prep and building construction taking place simultaneously can drastically cut timelines.
As the healthcare industry continues to introduce new technologies and innovations, modular medical facilities can be easily adapted and expanded to respond. With less interruption to medical staff and patients, modular hospitals and medical offices can be renovated to house new equipment, serve more patients, and streamline operations.
The Health Care Problem Tennessee is Facing: Nashville’s Underserved Population
While the health care industry in Nashville has had significant financial growth over the past five years, there is still a large population of Middle Tennessee that is underserved by health care services.
An estimated 1.5 million people live in rural Tennessee and the Tennessee Hospital Association 2017 Rural Impact Report reports that they are currently being served by
- 61 rural hospitals
- 15 critical access hospitals
But these numbers are on a downhill trend, not just in Middle Tennessee but also throughout the country. In the past three years, six rural hospitals have closed in Tennessee, leaving at least three communities in the state without a local hospital or access to emergency care. While the National Rural Health Association estimates that another 683 rural hospitals are at risk of closing through the U.S.
Rural hospitals often operate at narrow margins and 35% are reported to operate at a financial loss. This results from the fact that rural hospitals experience a lower volume of patients and serve patients that tend to be older, poorer, sicker, and who live in states that do not have expanded Medicaid programs.
As a way to create alternative services for a population underserved by the health care industry, several lawmakers, many from southern and midwestern states, have introduced bills to create a new classification of rural health care, the Community Outpatient Hospital (COH). These hospitals would provide 24-hour ER services, outpatient services, and primary care. However, they would not house any inpatient beds. Through partnerships with neighboring medical facilities, patients who required hospitalization would be transferred.
Affordable Solutions Using Modular Construction
In the past, individuals that didn’t have access to a local hospital were served through the efforts of mobile clinics (refurbished shuttles, vans, or trailers) that drove into remote areas and offered service to residents. While an incredibly worthwhile effort, it doesn’t always help those who need medical care in emergency situations or those who need medical care on a continuing basis.
As lawmakers propose the creation of COH networks in rural areas, the huge budgets and long timelines that come with building new medical facilities in remote areas are two roadblocks to providing the necessary medical care for rural residents. As a permanent solution, modular construction offers the ability to expand coverage areas and medical services with speed and less capital cost. Modular buildings can be customized to meet the unique needs of urgent care clinics, outpatient surgery centers, dental offices, primary care offices, dialysis facilities, and mental health facilities.
Traditional construction requires heavy machinery and laborers to travel to remote areas to complete construction on a new facility. This can cause delays, bring about extra costs, and quickly push a project out of scope. The off-site operations used in modular construction ensure tightly-controlled capital expenses and keep additional expenditures to a minimum. Additionally, taking weather delays out of the equation, a modular medical facility can be delivered, assembled, and start serving the community sooner.