How to Turn Vacant Retail Spaces Into Healthcare Facilities

How Vacant Retail Spaces Can Become Healthcare Facilities

How to Turn Vacant Retail Spaces Into Healthcare Facilities

How Vacant Retail Spaces Can Become Healthcare Facilities

The rapid closure of retail stores has led to record-high vacancy rates in shopping malls across the country. While this trend poses a significant challenge for the retail industry, it presents a unique opportunity for the healthcare facilities to address rising patient volumes and the need for expanded access to care. In the coming years, the healthcare industry is well-positioned to repurpose the millions of square feet of vacant retail spaces into healthcare facilities. However, converting a vacant department store into a functional medical facility involves overcoming several design and structural challenges.

1. Healthcare Facility vs Retail: Navigating Building Structure Differences

Retail spaces typically feature taller floor-to-floor heights compared to medical office buildings (MOBs). For example, the Medical University of South Carolina’s (MUSC) conversion of a former JCPenney department store into the West Ashley Medical Pavilion in Charleston faced this challenge. The 20-foot floor-to-floor heights, although advantageous for adding necessary infrastructure, required careful design solutions to ensure regular maintenance accessibility and manage noise levels. The design team addressed these issues by lowering ceiling heights in maintenance-heavy areas and incorporating sound insulation and white noise systems.

2. Adapting to Existing Footprints

Big retail stores often have square layouts, which can complicate the creation of clinical pods and distinct circulation flows for patients and staff in healthcare facilities. In the MUSC project, the solution was to route the main concourse through the middle of the facility and position elevators in the center.

3. Maximizing Access to Daylight

Standard clinical pod layouts typically allow natural light into buildings through corridor ends. However, the square footprints of retail spaces can restrict daylight penetration. At the MUSC West Campus, the design team addressed this by adding windows to exterior walls and incorporating glazed openings in patient and staff areas to enhance the sense of openness. They employed target value design to balance budget constraints with effective use of natural light.

4. Utilizing Bay Spacing

Retail stores’ structural bay spacing, such as the 32-by-32-foot configuration at the former JCPenney, is ideal for creating large procedure and operating rooms, as well as open clinical areas. These spaces can accommodate medical equipment and provide clear sightlines for collaborative work.

5. Upgrading Plumbing and HVAC Systems

The HVAC systems in retail stores, designed for high-volume air movement in open spaces, must be replaced to suit the partitioned layouts of healthcare facilities. Additionally, healthcare facilities require more extensive plumbing systems than retail stores. The increased floor-to-floor heights in retail spaces provide the necessary room for these upgrades, ensuring compliance with healthcare facility codes and efficiency standards.

Turn a Retail Industry Challenge into a Healthcare Advantage

As millions of square feet of retail space become available due to ongoing store closures, design teams must understand the costs and constraints involved in repurposing these structures. Successfully converting former big-box retail spaces into functional healthcare facilities will provide additional and convenient care options for patients and communities, turning a retail industry challenge into a healthcare sector advantage.

This article by healthcare architect Aaron Jeffers demonstrates the necessary considerations for transforming vacant retail spaces into healthcare facilities. You’ll learn industry best practices and proven recommendations for future retail-conversion healthcare projects.

By leveraging the potential of vacant retail spaces, healthcare providers can expand their reach, improve their efficiency, and deliver better outcomes for their patients and communities.

Read the full article here.

For more information on how Commercial and Retail Conversions Give Your Health System a Competitive Edge, read our blog.

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Want to discuss a retail conversion strategy or adaptive reuse or for your healthcare facility? Contact Principal, Aaron Jeffers, AIA.

Aaron Jeffers

Aaron Jeffers


Principal, Healthcare Practice

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