By Mark Toothacre
Today, hospitals and health systems face unprecedented challenges in reducing costs while improving quality, efficiency, sustainability, and staff and patient satisfaction. Yet, they also have another challenge – and opportunity – that is frequently overlooked: parking structures.
While it can seem like there is never enough convenient parking – especially on high-density, landlocked urban hospital campuses – recent innovations in design and technology can alleviate parking shortages with attractive, sustainable, affordable solutions that improve the user experience.
Patients, families, physicians and staff all want to get in and out of their healthcare facilities as quickly as possible and expect convenient, safe parking. Most hospital executives and planners understand that a good parking
facility is essential to any campus, and offers another way to differentiate themselves from other providers. Consequently, more hospitals are eschewing the simple, drab asphalt parking lots and dreary concrete parking structures of the past and developing facilities that combine function with design.
The trend for a developer is to go beyond that, according to Ian Waddell, partner of IDG Parkitects, which provides architecture, parking planning and design services for all industry sectors including medical. “Hospitals today want parking structures that are customer-centric, so they’re building in amenities that will enhance users’ experiences as well as improve safety and security,” says Waddell.
Among the newest amenities are carpool van and alternative energy parking stalls, charging stations for electric cars, valet parking, shuttle services, and pay-on-foot systems and charge card readers at exit lanes that replace slower, less flexible kiosk pay systems. But the ultimate convenience for busy, time-pressed patients and staff are automated parking display systems that indicate parking availability on a floor-by-floor and stall-by-stall basis.
Many hospitals also offer convenient pedestrian bridges and well-planned stairways and elevators. For example, Children’s Hospital of Orange County’s parking structure provides visitors and employees with safe, direct access to the main hospital campus via a 500-foot-long pedestrian bridge that crosses over a major six-lane street.
National patient satisfaction surveys show that these types of amenities are paying off. Surveys by Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) find that patients who are offered extra amenities from their hospital are more likely to rate the hospital favorably and to recommend the facility to their friends and family.
While safety and security have always been important in hospital parking structures, developers and many healthcare providers have expanded these efforts in recent years. “We’re seeing an evolution of developers using moment frames as lateral resisting structural systems rather than shear walls,” says Waddell. “This results not only in a more cost-effective parking structure but also enhanced visibility, ventilation and security.”
While good hospital parking structures are a necessity, many healthcare providers find it difficult to develop them cost effectively. Toward that end, a growing trend is for developers to use deep foundation systems such as Geopiers, Auger Cast Piles, Micro Piles and soil improvement systems such as Deep Soil Mixing. These newly developed systems and materials are less expensive alternatives to the two original deep foundation systems: pre-cast concrete driven piles and drilled cast-in-place concrete caissons.
Another interesting trend, according to Waddell, is that architects and developers are specifying aesthetically pleasing façade enhancements so the parking structures are better integrated into the natural landscaping and the look and style of the hospital campus and local community. For example, the Children’s Hospital of Orange County parking structure, which was designed to weave into the design of the medical campus, features integral colored brick spandrels with burnished brick accents. And the Scripps La Jolla parking structure complements the overall campus architecture using shared materials and creative detailing.
In addition, many developers are using trademark design elements in their hospital parking structures. Pacific Medical Buildings, an integrated medical office building developer, for example, paints the interiors of all of its parking structures white for a safe, clean and bright appearance.
Finally, it should be noted that the innovations in hospital parking structures are more than just aesthetic. There are also financial structures that can help healthcare administrators more cost-effectively meet their parking needs. With the cost to develop a new hospital parking structure currently in the $12,000 per space range for above-grade structured parking stalls to $25,000 or more per space for subterranean stalls, parking can add millions of dollars to the cost of a healthcare real estate project.
Charging fees for parking seems like an obvious solution, but that tends to be a touchy subject. Most consumers and employees are accustomed to free parking, and even well-compensated physicians tend to object to paying for parking. Yet, with many providers facing a financial pinch, the revenue that could be generated by paid parking simply cannot be overlooked. Despite its pitfalls, paid parking can sometimes be the only way to make a new project work.
Hospitals might want to consider working with a third-party real estate developer to develop, own and manage the new parking structure or joint venture the project with the hospital. Through various financial structures, the hospital could share parking revenue with the developer, receive a guaranteed minimum amount of revenue, master-lease the parking structure from the developer and retain all revenue, or receive income from leasing the land to the developer.
It’s clear that austere, unadorned and overlooked hospital parking structures are becoming a thing of the past. Hospital parking facilities are being planned, designed and developed much like their adjacent hospital campuses – strategically, thoughtfully, aesthetically and with a focus on delivering a superior customer experience.
Mark Toothacre is President of Pacific Medical Buildings (PMB). PMB specializes exclusively in the development and management of medical office buildings, outpatient facilities and parking structures for hospitals, medical groups and universities. The firm currently owns and manages 48 facilities totaling about 3.25 million square feet with more than 7,000 structured parking stalls. Mark can be reached at email@example.com.
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