Under Construction: How to Tell Patients Your Hospital Is Getting a Facelift

Netcare hospital in Rosebank, Johannesburg

My Grandpappy was a carpenter, building houses in late twentieth-century Pennsylvania, carefully nestling one-of-a-kind houses into the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Unsatisfied to build houses only for buyers, he also built every house my mother ever lived in, teaching her everything from brick laying to insulation. And while my mother didn’t build all of our houses from the ground up, she did inherit his passion for creating, remodeling anything she could get her hands on—meaning I’ve spent more than one night showering at a friend’s while my mother tore out our bathroom. Living in a construction zone can range from exciting to deeply irritating, especially if you’re sick or busy or just in the mood for peace and quiet.

Like a home, a fresh remodel for a hospital represents success. It means you’ve outgrown current space, you’ve secured capital, and you’re likely preparing to use the new space for bigger and better projects. Despite all this good news, renovation also means construction, which is inconvenient for employees stepping around debris and downright frustrating for patients trying to rest in a nearby room. Deciding how to position your hospital in regard to construction feels tricky. On one hand, you want patients to be excited about your expansion. On the other hand, you don’t want to overlook the patients trying to sleep while construction workers hammer up a nearby wall. With some thought and planning, however, you can set everyone up for success. Follow these small tips to make a big difference for both the patients temporarily living in a construction zone and the employees working around it.

1) Let people know what to expect. There’s no need to try and hide or belittle your construction; most patients are going to notice drywall crumbling on their floor. Hang signs not just in the effected areas, but all across the hospital campus letting people know that your building is getting a facelift. Try designing your sign to incorporate a sketch or digital rendering of the finished product to help everyone keep their eye on the future.

2) Use positive language. Both your signs and your staff should reflect the exciting updates coming to your building, not the frustrations that come with it. Avoid words like “noise” or “commotion” since these have negative associations. Acknowledge to patients that there may be some sounds of construction, apologize for any disturbances, and offer an estimate for completion. Even saying something as broad as “Summer 2020” is better than no end in sight—for staff and patients alike.

3) Prepare the patients. In addition to hanging signs, provide patients with a handout explaining the construction as part of their admission to avoid unpleasant surprises later. This handout should explain why you are undergoing construction, detail the impacted areas, the times of day construction can be expected, and special amenities offered to patients staying near the demo zone. Additionally, anyone who may try to catch some shut-eye (even outpatients) will thank you for creative sleep aids, like ear plugs or eye masks. Overnight patients may also appreciate being offered aromatherapy or relaxing music to help rest better.

4) Unite the Staff. Ensure that everyone in the building, especially nurses and physicians, is on the same page about how construction should be presented to the patients. This means providing them with similar standard language to use when discussing the remodel. While it may feel odd to offer staff scripted language for something like building renovations, many will feel more comfortable speaking with the public if they clearly understand what they can and cannot say. You certainly don’t want any frustrations staff may have to be translated to the patients.

5) Get Creative. It’s important to recognize that hospital staff cannot do their jobs in a construction area the same way they would in their typical environment. The area is louder, more unpredictable, and generally more stressful—as if nursing wasn’t stressful enough already! Consider playing soothing music at the nurses’ station to balance out the sounds of power tools or offering aromatherapy in break areas. Most patients will only have to endure the construction for a day or two, but staff will spend countless hours in a constantly changing environment. Hospital leaders have a responsibility to ensure staff feel both save and comfortable while at work.

At the end of the day, it’s important that patients and staff alike understand that this construction ultimately benefits the community. Whether you’re building a new pediatric wing or updating the emergency department, the work being done improves healthcare and makes your hospital both a better place to receive care and an excellent environment for caregivers to work.

About the Author

Mel Policicchio Headshot

Mel Policicchio - Assoc. Director, Marketing & Communications, PRC

Mel is a writer, editor, and PRC’s Associate Director of Marketing and Communications. A Pittsburgh native, she graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh and worked in a variety of technical writing and editing positions before entering healthcare marketing. Mel’s passion lays somewhere between finding the right words to explain the unexplainable and discovering the most effective way to complete any task, from large corporate projects to a well-organized sock drawer.