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5 Questions with Grant Geiger on the Future of Modular Construction in Healthcare

Jun 03, 2020 by Deidre Woollard

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us the value of being able to quickly access hospital space. When the epidemic first hit China, that government mobilized, using modular construction to build several hospitals. Since COVID-19 hit the states, it's safe to say that Grant Geiger, the CEO of EIR Healthcare, has been getting a lot of calls. His company is invested in the future of modular construction and has created MedModular, a complete, factory-built patient room. The design has received several awards for innovation. In this interview, Grant discusses modular construction and the future of health care.

What specific components do the MedModular rooms have, and how are they assembled?

Our focus when we launched the product in 2018 was to deliver everything from the exterior facade of the building all the way through to the interior corridor. These are self-sustaining, load-carrying rooms. It's a steel cage in which a room is built into it. That room can be deployed in a traditional construction setting for a normal building or -- in a situation like we're in now with a pandemic with COVID-19 -- the rooms can be stacked or placed next to each other to provide a level of patient care. We wanted to distill this down to one product that we could manufacture at scale, much like the automotive industry is looking at manufacturing cars or aerospace is looking at airplanes.

We spent a number of years actually investigating best practices in other industries where modular construction has been very successful. We found the most success has been in the shipbuilding industry. So we spent a couple of years actually studying shipbuilders in Europe, in Italy, Finland, and Germany, to take a look at the process for building a cruise ship, and you know what we learned that is really interesting is one of the largest ships, with 3,300 staterooms, was built in 18 months. Health care construction can take as long as six years to be able to build a hospital.

The patient room is important. The reality is the patient spends the majority of the time there, and that's one of the things that they will remember when they leave. We bring in everything with the exception of the medical equipment. We have built relationships with companies like Hill-Rom (NYSE: HRC) and Herman Miller (NASDAQ: MLHR) and others where we will partner with them to bring that equipment and that furniture in, so we try to provide as close as we can get to a 100% complete room when you walk in there.

What has the company learned from the COVID-19 outbreak?

As a company, we've learned that there is a role for us to play in the broader conversation about pandemics and how we can provide value. Traditionally, when we went to market, our conversation was about the traditional construction market and a customer building a 200-bed patient tower. We didn't go out to the market initially to look for emergency response, but now we've pivoted to that and we've had a lot of really interesting conversations, and it will become part of our business in the future.

There have been some interesting challenges for us in working with clients and doing pre-construction work, but at some point, you do have to get to the location where you're supposed to do things. We are still working on capacity, following guidelines that are out there from the CDC and others. Europe has actually led the way in bringing manufacturing back online.

More companies may go modular. If you have a controlled environment and you have a controlled process, then you can control outcomes in a way you can't when you are building outdoors.

Technology and health care are iterating and developing faster than you're building the facilities. The patient room becomes essentially a product where you're plugging in. It's a hardware product in the technology sense, and you're plugging in new software and new things as they're developed -- and can you make that room adaptable? How do you build the technology into the room, the speakers, the monitoring, the visual aids, and all those things so that you can actually do that while a patient is lying in bed? If you put the hardware in place, then you can continuously change the software on the back end.

What are you most worried about?

Our health care delivery system is very rigid, and I'm thinking about what we can do as a society to be more adaptable and more flexible to deliver health care. I'm concerned that I don't think we have that ability. My question is, what are we going to do next time, because, you know, I think we are resilient and we responded with our hearts and our minds to do all the right things, but what can we do to be better about it? And I think we need to think of more ways to be able to deliver care and be open to thinking outside the box to do it.

In terms of the construction of the rooms -- are there any new technologies or new materials you're excited about?

I think 3D printing is the most interesting. We've been looking at that for quite a while. We actually prototype a lot and use 3D printing from a research and development standpoint; for example, wall assemblies and things like that. There still needs to be more development done in that space. We're not there yet. It will play a significant part in the future, I think, from a materials standpoint. We think about how we can deliver something that's lighter that has more strength to it.

There are also interesting developments with smart fabrics that have materials embedded, like certain metals, to reduce infection and bacteria. We've looked at solutions that are actually organic -- but are able to reduce infections -- that can be sprayed as an aqueous spray in the room. I think from an applied material and applied science perspective, there will be a lot of interesting things that will happen there. I'm more focused on the interior space and how we reduce hospital-acquired infections.

Do you think that this is going to change how we feel about urban density? Will hospitals be more spread out now?

I do think so. What we're seeing is that health-management technology is driving a lot of care outside of the hospital, and it's already happened. In the future, there are going to be more of what we call micro hospitals; previously they were called critical-access hospitals. Some are as small as seven beds, but most are 10 to 50 beds and are essentially extremely concentrated hospitals that are able to be deployed in various areas, both urban and rural. We're seeing more construction of those types of smaller facilities than we are seeing new bed towers. If you are an academic medical center, you're always going to have a 300-bed tower, because you have your residents, you have a whole academic teaching program that will always continue, but we are seeing more smaller health care facilities.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Deidre Woollard has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Hill-Rom Holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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