With a degree in architecture from Clemson University and a doctorate in environmental science from University of Arizona, Molly M. Scanlon is an accomplished healthcare architect with a unique cross-disciplinary focus on public health. It’s a background that led her to her current role at Phigenics, where she examines the built environment’s impact on human health with the goal of reducing illness and injury from exposure to pathogens in building systems.
It’s also what established Scanlon as the ideal individual to lead the American Institute of Architects (AIA) COVID-19 Task Force as a chairperson and public health advisor. Under her leadership, the task force completed a series of strategic workshops that culminated in teams of public health and healthcare professionals working in conjunction with architects and engineers to develop tool kits for use during the pandemic. In total, 11 tool kits were created, including four for healthcare surge capacity and seven focused on reopening and maintaining civil operations.
Despite the confusion that existed early in the pandemic due to emerging data on transmission and shifting care protocols, Scanlon leveraged her experience to evaluate emergency pandemic response methods and available COVID-19 research to formulate the task force’s mission.
For example, regarding care settings, Scanlon’s catchphrase became “stop trying to build a hospital.” Instead, she guided the team toward developing spaces where healthcare operations could be performed safely within nonhealthcare settings. This shift in mindset allowed the task force to rapidly translate healthcare building code language into a tool kit for creating alternative care sites.
While the work provided an immediate benefit to the architecture industry overall, the effects of Scanlon’s task force leadership have gone on to inform both governmental agencies and healthcare providers in future pandemic planning as well as guide surge capacity response solutions published by the Facility Guidelines Institute.
As her HCD 10 nomination states, “Rarely has our healthcare design profession had both the opportunity and duty to exercise our professional authority than in the COVID-19 pandemic,” and Scanlon emerged as the Industry MVP who steered that response.
What do you love most about your job?
I enjoy interfacing with clinical, facility management, design, and construction professionals to protect patients from exposure to pathogens using best practices, guidelines, and standards to reduce the likelihood of illness, injury, or death.
What industry challenge do you hope to solve?
I am currently practicing and researching methods to improve building water quality and safety commissioning practices. The goal is to reduce the likelihood of patient disease cases emerging from waterborne pathogens and construction activities. These methods will enhance infection control risk assessments (ICRAs) and guidelines for the construction of building water systems.
The desired outcome is to assure that building water systems are safe for patient care operations to avoid illness, injury, and death upon building opening. No person should be severely injured or die from using the building water system especially in a new building or newly renovated space.
What inspires you?
The application of the scientific process to produce evidence to shape the direction of the built environment for the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the public is a very rewarding experience. Working with collaborators on research that leads to evidence-based decision-making is an experience that has transformed my foundational skills as an architect to see problems differently.
What’s the next major trend you anticipate for healthcare design?
Healthcare design professionals need to be prepared to specify and interpret results from environmental data for air and waterborne pathogens. Building design and energy conservation within building systems can contribute to reducing patient safety. Data (evidence) needs to be used as criteria for safety measures and not simply efficiency standards. Safety + Efficiency = Sustainable Systems. If a building system is not safe, then it is not sustainable.
What did you learn over the past year?
Public health and healthcare organizations need to better understand the impact the built environment has on health outcomes. Healthcare design professionals need to broaden their practice and reach toward improving community and population health outcomes. We need better guidelines and standards for emergency response, disaster preparedness, resilience, and recovery, including healthcare settings, alternative care sites, schools, businesses, and civic operations.