By Craig Beam, Bill Eveloff and Chris Hickman

For our Petra team, sometimes we aren’t sure what we’ll be asked when we pick up the phone or open an email. Since our people bring talents across the project life cycle, we’ve pretty much seen it all.

At the end of the day, we’re capital planning and construction professionals. The unique problems we’re asked to solve or perhaps quirky projects we’re asked to deliver are important parts of creating safe, effective healthcare facilities – and require significant financial investments, so all of these examples have meaningful impacts. They also illustrate that even if you specialize in one market segment, you still find a variety of work.

Here are a few of our team’s favorite unusual requests, from both our Petra and pre-Petra days:

  • Show me the money. A historical monastery stood in the way of a Catholic hospital’s planned expansion. The brothers would need to relocate to a new monastery, but we needed to get a valuation so that the hospital would pay for the existing monastery to be torn down. Part of that project required getting special permission to enter the cloistered facility. In walking the space, we realized the chapel was only as half as big as the plans indicated. The brothers had turned the other half into a TV lounge, complete with nine easy chairs and a refrigerator of self-brewed beverage – a nod to the hospital’s history as it was founded with an on-site brewery, and each patient received two glasses daily as part of the healing regimen.
  • Think of a better way. That’s our bread and butter, in fact, and we’ve had opportunities to take that to the next level to deliver what our clients most. Building a building is one solution, but it isn’t always the right solution. When we put our planning caps on, we take time to learn about the market, to look beyond the physical environment, and envision a solution that delivers on unmet (and sometimes previously unknown) needs. For several projects, we brought in the global design firm IDEO, whose innovations include the computer mouse, a wearable breast pump and a simplified, wireless home security system.
  • Cut it in half. After a year of working with hospital leaders and consultants in the Southwest, we were delighted to hear that our comprehensive master campus plan had earned approval from its board of directors. Not too long after, we got an email saying that on second thought, it was too expensive – and could Petra deliver something that costs half as much in about two months’ time? Of course, we did. This might not fit in the category of strange, but it speaks to some of the extremes that can take place in our industry.
  • Bring in the 21st A convent adjacent to a medical complex got a refresh with a conference and welcome center with state-of-the-art audiovisual elements. To support an aging and dwindling number of residents, we also converted part of the campus into an assisted living facility and added a library with expanded technology resources to bring the outside in rather than maintaining an internally focused environment.
  • Do it over. A hospital group in Virginia wasn’t happy with costs outlined by its designer and builder for two medical complexes in development. The leaders called in Petra to propose cost models that would be more effective. Getting a so-called second opinion isn’t unusual, but having only two weeks to do what normally takes months is. We delivered – then were asked to build the facilities, which was a nice exclamation point on the efficacy of our project planning.
  • Move it across the street. In the early 1990s, ambulatory services were a rarity. There were internal politics and reputation that seemed to say that the best services were offered on the primary site. We had a hospital CEO in the northeast who was a visionary. The system had to grow – and there was open space across the street. Organizations were demonstrating that they didn’t need to cater to legacy trends (and physicians), but could rethink its model and proactively offer something better. We were honored to partner with a group that was breaking new ground at the time.

What these projects demonstrate is that the needs of a healthcare provider don’t always fit into the box that the industry traditionally offers. While we’re as eager as architects and contractors to find a solution that requires designing and building a structure, we’re just as satisfied if the solution avoids this outcome. Why? Because we earn our keep by bringing the best solutions to the table. Does a great orthopedic surgeon always recommend surgery? Perhaps the construction industry’s equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath should be “you don’t always need to build something to solve a problem.”

We bring innovative thinking to every customer ask, and we enjoy opportunities to flex our mental muscles and differentiate our end-to-end project experience. Have an issue that has your team flummoxed? Contact our team; we’re probably already thinking of a solution for you. 

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