Tent hospital designed quickly for HUS in preparation for the epidemic

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Tent hospital designed quickly for HUS in preparation for the epidemic

2 June 2020
New operating model can be copied across Finland as necessary. Facilities for around 160 coronavirus patients were created in the underground parking facility of Meilahti Hospital. Sweco’s architects drew up detailed designs for a tent hospital that can be extended according to need and be up and running within three weeks.

HUS and Sweco have cooperated extensively since the early 2000s, which is why this design task, completely exceptional during peacetime, was also assigned to the familiar partner.

“As the pandemic became more serious, we decided to implement a reserve hospital solution so that intensive care capacity could be ensured even in severe scenarios,” says Director Antti Vento from Helsinki University Hospital Heart and Lung Center, who is in charge of the reserve hospital operations. “The design cooperation has been seamless.”

The starting point of the design and dimensioning of the reserve hospital was the 6x12-metre field hospital tent.

“In other respects, our work was quite similar to normal hospital design where the focus is on the functionality of facilities,” says Architect Heikki Laherma, who specialises in hospital design at Sweco. The first thing was to listen to the health care personnel at the hospital. “We also took the needs of patients, logistics, equipment maintenance, cleaning and catering services into account.

Functional cooperation with authorities ensures fast implementation

The facility design was governed by the tight schedule and the absolute requirement of having the hospital ready for operation in three weeks, if needed. The reserve hospital can indeed be constructed flexibly one tent at a time.

“The underground facilities, closed off from other use, can fit up to 30 Finnish Red Cross tents,” states the principal designer of the project, Architect Nicola Ugas from Sweco. Although it is a tent hospital, official requirements are as tight as in other hospital projects. Furthermore, the reserve hospital is commissioned in emergencies, which requires fast decision-making from the authorities.

“This is why we have conducted dialogue with building control and fire safety authorities throughout our design work,” Ugas says. Authorities have been informed and prepared well in advance, so that permits can be received quickly when needed. “Succeeding requires functional cooperation: openness, trust and compromise.”

Huge number of correctly dimensioned fixtures, fittings and hospital equipment

Around 100 beds and 60 intensive care places and their support services are located underground. The chief infectious diseases physician, care staff and different user groups were involved in defining what materials, equipment and fixtures were needed and where, down to the coat hooks.

“An important part of the design were the department entrances or blocks,” explains Construction Architect Nina Salo from Sweco. The users were involved in figuring out the ideal way for care staff to move in and out of the wards. “The essential thing is the correct phasing of putting on and taking off protective clothing.”

All technology, including ventilation systems, telecommunications, electricity and hospital gases, were installed to the parking facility in advance. A large amount of goods and quickly installable sanitary facilities also needed to fit in between the patient tents. “For example, air treatment units, gas bottles, bins and goods trolleys must fit between the tents,” Salo says.

In new hospital projects, it is customary to create a model room in the 3D environment before building the actual model facilities. However, two model tents were directly built for the reserve hospital. “This allowed us to implement necessary changes before fixed installations and their documentation,” Laherma explains. “On the basis of photos and drawings, each tent will be realised in exactly the same way.”

The reserve hospital is a historic project in Finland. This is the first time that a field hospital is being designed during peacetime, while performing nationally important preparations for the future. “This investment also secures patient care capacity in similar pandemics or major accidents in the future,” Vento says.

“If and when epidemics recur, the operating model created for HUS can be quickly copied across Finland,” Laherma adds.