Disruptions and ongoing implications from the COVID-19 pandemic have rocked industries indiscriminately. Among images that will likely linger long past recovery: convention centers, stadiums and outdoor tents turned into medical facilities. While this necessary pivot met the contemporary need, it did raise concerns about the provision of safe, confidential and quality patient care. Therefore, it’s no surprise that healthcare systems and hospitals are considering this experience as they explore renovations and expansions.

Specific acoustical guidelines exist for the design of healthcare facilities. Developed by the Facility Guideline Institute (FGI) and reviewed for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, these standards include criteria for acceptable ambient noise from the outside environment and installed equipment based on the setting type. For example, the acoustic levels for a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and patient care rooms are far more stringent than those for a waiting room or even an operating room.

To help healthcare systems and hospitals design adaptable facilities, like what was needed in 2020 and so far in 2021, facility designs should consider the possibility of any space becoming a patient area in the future. This would require slightly adjusting the spatial planning approach to look more closely at potential issues, such as the implications of locating a generator near a space intended as a waiting area. Rather than adhering to the minimal guidelines for a waiting area, the design could address the resulting noise with specialty windows, thicker exterior walls or acoustical treatments so the space could provide a quality acoustical environment for patient care, if ever needed.

While this proactive approach might add more expense to the final project, the potential adaptability could prove invaluable in the event of another unforeseen disaster. Any retrofits necessary to make an existing space safe and comfortable for patients can be costly and difficult, especially when on a time crunch.

Firms that integrate acoustical study specialists with engineering, design and construction teams, like Burns & McDonnell does, can address adjustments from the beginning through to the completion of a high-quality, adaptable facility. This upfront, comprehensive spatial planning by an integrated, in-house team can evaluate space designations within a facility, materials of construction and equipment location with FGI guidelines before the design is finalized. By putting in the time on facility planning now, healthcare systems and hospitals can continue delivering quality patient care, no matter the location.


The University of Missouri System is taking a proactive approach in the development of a facility for advancing research in precision medicine. Learn how the design and execution of the facility is overcoming challenges on a tight timeline.

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