Nolan Rome: Better Access to Information is the Future of Healthcare Design
Senior Vice President, WSP in the USA
What are the key trends in the US health market?
Around 95% of our work is for the private sector and of that figure, around 60% of projects are for the not-for-profit sector.
Affordable care, which was introduced in 2010, has had quite an impact on the way in which the market works because there are tax incentives for providing a model of community healthcare with an emphasis on patient satisfaction and accountability.
Healthcare providers need to demonstrate certain levels of performance, including energy efficiency. As building services consultants we can help healthcare centres operate more efficiently, which helps them to access this support. The focus on patient satisfaction and the onus on providers to operate their facilities efficiently means we’re building a smaller volume of higher quality facilities.
What have been some of your most memorable projects and why?
Dell Children’s Medical Center (Austin, Texas) involved working with a sophisticated client which was eager to challenge our design team. We helped to achieve a LEED Platinum certification for the scheme. The Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin is a complex scheme that is still in construction with the same owners team. Creating these 21st century facilities is a privilege.
What is the next big thing in healthcare design, and how is WSP facilitating this?
Giving patients and medical staff better access to information is the future. We are developing wearable technology that can track patients’ movements and gather diagnostic data. This is a big step forwards in terms of empowering patients to take more control over their healthcare. For example, a child typically stays in Great Ormond Street Hospital for 90 days. Wearable devices could help free up children so that they spend less time on the ward. This kind of technology could also benefit elderly patients who need to be monitored for long periods.
Another area we are looking at is ‘advance logic’ – creating systems that can anticipate, for example, a room’s energy requirements and respond accordingly. Our aim is to take a leading role in the sector with the development of these new technologies.
What do you see as your key role at WSP?
I’m a project manager. I get the right people in the right place to deliver a project that achieves its full potential. At heart, I’m still an engineer and enjoy the design process from inception to construction completion. I’ll always find the time to contribute to plant design.
Mentoring is another important aspect of my job. As a team, we work shoulder to shoulder with a flat management structure. By working alongside my co-workers, I can help develop their project management and technical skills.
What aspect of working in healthcare do you enjoy most?
Collaborating with a very wide variety of people and seeing the results of our work. As we work with many clients on a repeat basis, we’re getting to see buildings post-occupancy and can evaluate the long term performance of the systems we’ve designed.
What are your top three healthcare innovations created by WSP?
Our central plant recovery systems contribute hugely to buildings’ efficient use of energy. Other key innovations include improved infection control systems, and creating buildings with better, more efficient, space use.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
I travel all over the world with my work and love exploring the countries I visit. I love to camp with my young son, as well as hike, and cycle.
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
X-ray vision to see into things.
If you could be a piece of hospital equipment, what would you be?
An MRI scanner!
If you worked in a hospital, what role would best suit you?
A facilities engineer!
An architectural engineer by training, Nolan is a practice leader in WSP’s healthcare team in the US. Although much of his time is devoted to project coordination, Nolan remains a passionate ‘hands-on’ engineer and continues to design mechanical systems including central energy plants.
Nolan has spent most of his career in the healthcare sector and thrives on the diversity within the sector and the wide variety of people he meets. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1999, he joined engineering consultant ccrd, which was acquired by WSP in 2014. Key recent projects include Dell Children’s Medical Center, which was the first hospital in the world to achieve Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum Certification and Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
With a keen interest in outdoor pursuits from camping to cycling, Nolan also enjoys mentoring junior colleagues. In 2012, Nolan was named by the US weekly Engineering News-Record (ENR) as one of the country’s ‘top 40 engineers under 40’.