Common healthcare development pitfalls

Whether it's a medical office building, surgery center or replacement hospital, development projects are a big undertaking for any healthcare organization. And for those who have led a development in the past, the challenge of taking a project from concept to completion can be fraught with hazards – particularly when it comes to the local government approval process.

Below are a few of the most common mistakes hospitals and health systems make when planning and securing approvals for a development or expansion project, and how to avoid them.

Going straight to the top
In most cities and towns, the local planning commission and/or city council are responsible for reviewing and approving healthcare development plans. Once a development site is selected, healthcare organizations should research the local land use regulations – issues such as maximum building height, minimum setbacks and parking spaces – as well as the mechanics of the development approval process, to determine building requirements and map out an approval timeline.

In many cases, this information is available online. But it's advantageous to contact at the local planning department to get early guidance on requirements and timelines to start building a positive relationship. However, some organizations make the mistake of approaching the mayor, city council or other top official too soon – alienating the individuals who truly control the process and unknowingly creating a hurdle for themselves.

Ignoring community groups
City councils and planning commissions aren't the only groups healthcare organizations need to consider in the development process. Community, neighborhood and homeowner groups can assert significant influence over the governing bodies responsible for project approval. It's a good idea to invest time early in the planning process for identifying and meeting with leaders of relevant community groups to discuss the project plans. This gives healthcare organizations the opportunity to hear and address any questions or concerns before those issues develop into project opposition.

Waiting to ask about tax breaks
It's important to reach out to local economic development officials in the beginning of the planning process to determine whether any tax incentives are available for the project. Depending on the type, size and location of the project, there may be incentive programs that would reduce real estate or property taxes, construction sales tax exemptions or workforce development grants. But if healthcare organizations wait too long, and it becomes clear the project will move forward with or without incentives, local officials have little reason to extend program benefits.

Poor time management
Development approvals usually follow a set, date-specific path from the time a project proposal is submitted until a final review or vote. Though this path varies significantly by municipality or county – and can last anywhere from a few months to more than a year – it should be easy to map out the steps to determine when information submissions, meetings and hearings are required. In some cases, missing a deadline can hold up the entire process and delay a project by weeks or even months. It's critical to understand the full timeline prior to submitting the first proposal and then to stick to it carefully.

Forgetting the details
Starting construction doesn't mean the end of the approval process. Healthcare organizations must still be sure to process documentation with local agencies and utility companies to close out permits, obtain inspections, secure the necessary business licenses and pay any operational fees with the city and/or county. Forgetting the details may result in delays or fines.

Healthcare developments are big undertakings, and moving from concept to completion is a significant task. With careful planning, and insight into some of the most common pitfalls, healthcare organizations can improve their chances of securing all the necessary approvals in a timely manner, speeding the way to the project's opening.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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