New hospital rules require new zoning Bryn Mawr and Lankenau need more buildings.

Posted: July 08, 2004

As we talked with residents over the last several months about proposed changes at Bryn Mawr and Lankenau Hospitals, many asked: Can't you achieve the changes you want within the building space you already have?

Surprisingly, the answer often is "no."

The delivery of patient care has undergone significant changes in the last 50 years. Regulations for the design and construction of hospital facilities have changed significantly, and new laws, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act, have increased the square footage requirements of hospitals throughout the United States.

Whenever we undertake a major renovation in one of our buildings or pursue a new construction project, we must comply with building codes. Sometimes that can mean redoing an entire department or floor so it complies with new space requirements. Some of these requirements have increased by double digits since the mid-1980s.

For example, in 1987, a semi-private inpatient hospital room had to encompass 80 square feet. Today, regulations require at least 100 square feet, an increase of 25 percent. The space for a critical care bed in 1987 needed to be 120 square feet. Today it must be 200 square feet, an increase of 67 percent. The space requirement for a bassinet in one of our neonatal intensive care nurseries has gone from 40 square feet to 120 square feet, an increase of 200 percent!

Operating rooms, too, must be larger today. Space requirements for a general operating room have increased 11 percent; an operating room used for orthopedic or cardiac surgery must be 67 percent larger today than 15 years ago.

Floor-to-ceiling height requirements also have grown because many new medical technologies require more room, and their lighting, wiring, and other support systems must be accommodated.

The implications of these new space and height requirements at Bryn Mawr and Lankenau Hospitals are profound. Most of the inpatient space at our two hospitals dates from at least 50 years ago. Though these facilities have been well maintained, they are reaching the point where continued renovation can cost more than new construction.

Renovation alone often falls short of our need for flexibility and efficiency. Additionally, unlike office or retail space, we can't shut down the hospital for a few months while we upgrade. New construction often is required so we can continue our community service without interruption.

If we want to ensure that Lankenau and Bryn Mawr continue to offer the most modern health care, we must include new buildings on our campuses. Unfortunately, our ability to plan and construct these buildings is severely limited under current zoning. Without new zoning, our ability to serve the community is at risk.

That is why we support updating the Lower Merion Township zoning that applies to Lankenau and Bryn Mawr. New zoning is needed to establish modern guidelines for growth while ensuring community input into changes at the hospitals. New zoning would make it easier for our hospitals to meet community health needs today and in the future.

The need for new facilities at Bryn Mawr and Lankenau is just another chapter in our long history of adapting to community expectations and changing with the times. Throughout our history, the support of the Lower Merion community has helped make Bryn Mawr and Lankenau the outstanding nonprofit hospitals they are today. Adopting new zoning is another way in which the community and its hospitals can support each other and ensure many more years of quality health care in Lower Merion.

Andrea Gilbert is president of Bryn Mawr Hospital and Gail Egan is president of Lankenau Hospital.

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