6 myths, busted: The truth about healthcare facility management outsourcing

Discover six benefits of a facilities management partnership.

In a healthcare facility, patients and caregivers alike expect safe, clean and comfortable treatment areas and waiting rooms. Yet, pristine facilities come with a cost, and your real estate assets probably constitute the third-highest item on your balance sheet. How can you solve the quality-cost conundrum? For many healthcare organizations, the solution is to partner with a facility management (FM) service provider.

For example, a hospital with $50 million in annual operating costs could potentially save $9 million in just two or three years through an integrated FM partnership. Concurrently, those savings also represent an opportunity to reduce risk while improving the patient experience and the quality of care. 

It’s common for healthcare organizations to outsource aspects of clinical operations and even patient care. Far less common are FM partnerships, despite the many advantages they can deliver—from reducing costs and compliance risk to enhancing service delivery and patient outcomes. Often, misperceptions can get in the way of pursuing a relationship with an FM service provider. 

To get it right, it’s important to recognize that outsourcing is about collaboration—creating a win-win relationship focused on achieving your desired outcomes. The ideal partner is one that understands the unique challenges that your organization is tackling and is as committed to your mission as you are. A qualified service provider will bring experienced leadership to apply proven, standardized practices that not only improve efficiency and compliance, but also improve care. 

The following are some of the common myths about partnering — and the realities.

Myth #1: We’ve already cut our facilities costs as low as they can go.

Myth, Debunked. Often, healthcare leaders assume that their facilities teams already know the best ways to reduce operating costs. Therefore, an FM partnership will not add to efficiency. The reality? FM partnering can be a powerful strategy that not only reduces facilities costs, but also improves patient outcomes.

An experienced implementation partner will offer tools and leading strategies to drive new efficiencies in your real estate operations. For instance, some healthcare organizations begin their FM partnering journey with energy and sustainability services as the first target for savings. An expert in healthcare facilities energy management can recommend and implement new strategies across your system—including alternative energy services — that can save millions and reduce your carbon footprint.

Energy management was a key aspect of an FM partnership that a major California healthcare system created with JLL . JLL collaborated with the organization to implement solar carports at 400 sites and negotiate a power purchase agreement with a solar power provider. In the first year alone, the system reduced its annual energy bill by 15 percent—with minimum capital investment.

Typically, about one-third of the energy used by buildings is wasted through inefficient or malfunctioning equipment. A partner with deep healthcare experience will apply next-generation preventative maintenance techniques and use sophisticated monitoring tools to keep equipment operating efficiently and to prevent building equipment failures. These measures not only reduce energy costs and extend equipment life, but also help ensure that the patient experience is always safe and comfortable.

Strategic sourcing alone can achieve significant savings. A leading FM service provider will have a strategic sourcing team that secures volume discounts for its clients on items such as cleaning supplies and contractor services. And, a seasoned healthcare FM provider will know which products are best for the healthcare environment, including environmentally sustainable products.

Myth #2: Going it alone works for us—our facilities appear to be clean, compliant and cost-efficient.

Myth Debunked: Appearances can be deceiving. Your facilities team may be very adept at keeping the lights on, meeting facilities accreditation standards and using cost-effective management techniques. But do you really know how well your facilities are performing? Could you confidently inform your board that your FM management is in line with leading practices, or that you excel at preventing ‘red flag’ compliance issues?

For all their competency, your facilities team might not be able to tell you whether they are on top of preventing future equipment failures, or whether costs could be better managed. Unless you know what questions to ask, you can’t be sure that they’re using the most effective FM and building technologies and strategies to improve efficiency.

In contrast, a qualified FM partner brings an insider’s view of facility practices across the healthcare spectrum. They’ll help you ask the right questions so you can assure your board that your team is focused on the right priorities.

Among other advantages, a leading FM service provider will be able to deliver:

  • Access to best practices and proven approaches that have helped similar organizations reduce costs and improve quality in their facilities operations.
  • A sizeable pool of facilities experts, with the right expertise to address any challenge that emerges in your real estate and facilities.
  • Innovative new approaches that may give your institution competitive advantage.
  • Strategic sourcing to obtain volume discounts and meet diversity sourcing goals for your organization.

In addition, a qualified service provider can provide leading FM and building technologies that reduce energy costs, lower overall operating costs, improve FM productivity and the patient experience, and mitigate compliance risks. In contrast, the average healthcare organization lacks the resources and expertise to select and implement an effective FM technology platform. A major real estate service provider will assume the risk of implementing and managing FM technologies—and training your team to use them.

Most healthcare organizations are tackling competing demands for their attention and resources. Through assessments and data analyses, your provider can help prioritize facilities investments that will produce the highest return on investment, whether in terms of financial results, compliance, productivity or patient satisfaction. With a seasoned healthcare FM partner, you can free your staff to focus on the core business of healthcare without losing sight of your facilities goals.

Myth #3: Partnering won’t help integrate and standardize facilities management across our complex network. 

Myth Debunked. Whether your organization has grown organically or through mergers and acquisitions, you’ve probably integrated your clinical operations along the way to ensure high-quality patient care. Yet, if your system is like most, each of your facilities is managed by an independent team. That is, many healthcare organizations deliver care through an integrated ‘system’ framework, but manage their facilities on a one-by-one basis.

You may have standardized some processes, but are your facilities teams sharing leading practices and successful new approaches they’ve developed? Do you have a centralized repository of real estate data so you can view your real estate operations holistically? Are reporting and service delivery consistent across your facilities?

An FM partner can help you quickly centralize your data and help ensure that you are providing a consistent patient experience in every facility. With a clear structure for sharing data, standardized processes and leading practices, you’ll be able to uncover new opportunities to reduce costs while enhancing the patient experience.

As your network expands to include lower-cost settings such as shopping centers, mixed-use developments and freestanding emergency rooms, an FM partner can help ensure that these facilities provide a consistent brand experience. For instance, a leading provider can offer on-call mobile engineering services that provide the same high level of service as fixed facility staff—but with the lower cost of a resource shared among facilities.

Accelerating integration with an FM partnership

An FM partnership was the key to true integration for a rapidly growing healthcare system operating in 27 states. Following a major acquisition, the system partnered with JLL to help maintain operational excellence across its growing network.

Retaining institutional FM knowledge and talent was critical. JLL collaborated with the healthcare organization to assess staff skills and experience, and successfully onboarded 230 employees. Based on the assessments, the most qualified people were promoted to positions of greater responsibility than they had previously held. Then, JLL brought the FM leadership to its Chicago headquarters for intensive operations, quality and regulatory compliance training to ensure adoption of consistent processes and leading practices across the organization.

Myth #4: FM partnering means a loss of jobs—and a loss of control.

Myth Debunked: An experienced healthcare FM service provider will want to hire as many of your FM team members as possible to retain institutional knowledge and continuity of service. They’ll seek to be a collaborative partner, establishing shared goals and transparent reporting. Your facilities teams will be empowered to focus on the work that matters for your mission.

Also important, a leading FM service provider will perform with transparency to keep you informed of progress toward the outcomes you’ve mutually established. In contrast, when individual facility teams at each of your facilities performs to its own standards, with its own processes and metrics for success, how much control do you really have?

What we think of as “control” can mean the opposite if you lack a holistic view of your system’s facilities performance. You can’t create or enforce system-wide standard processes and quality goals if you lack a framework for systemic, continuous FM performance improvements.

Most critical, you can shape your FM partnership outcomes around the unique needs of your organization. Establishing ‘key performance indicators,’ or KPIs, at the outset of a new FM relationship ensures that your FM partner is striving to meet your unique needs.

A typical KPI might be to meet or exceed 95 percent of facilities accreditation standards, or to achieve an average score of 90 for patient satisfaction with their care setting. A sophisticated FM partner will collaborate with you to structure an agreement based on shared goals and KPIs, with a portion of fees ‘at risk’ if your goals are not met.

Throughout, your current facilities staff can continue to serve your buildings. An experienced FM provider will provide a comprehensive plan for onboarding your former employees and ensuring a smooth transition. Rather than losing their jobs, transitioned employees will find new professional development opportunities, including mentoring and training in the latest FM technologies and best practices. And, they’ll be positioned to explore different career paths as part of a deep and multi-faceted organization.

Lifecare ‘from the boiler room to the boardroom

Rather than focusing on what you might lose, consider what your organization stands to gain from a partnership. Through an FM partnership, a major Chicago medical center was able to improve its facility team’s productivity by 30 percent—with no loss of jobs. The service provider successfully transitioned the medical center’s FM professionals, assumed responsibility for daily operations and freed the medical center leadership team to focus on the bigger picture.

Myth #5: Partnering means significant change without significant improvements.

Myth, Debunked. An experienced FM partner will be able to onboard your facilities staff and transition services within 90 days—and quickly implement changes that will benefit your operations for years to come. The key? Experience. With a proven track record in managing facilities for complex healthcare systems, your FM partner will be able to transfer lessons learned and results achieved for other organizations.

An FM partner also should offer flexibility. A typical integrated FM services agreement includes building operations, facilities compliance, housekeeping, custodial and landscaping services, and may also include energy management, consulting, project management and more. However, you can tailor the partnership to retain high performing facilities functions in-house, or to pilot the partnership with selected facilities within your system.

A leading FM provider will have experience with both small to midsized partnerships, as well as very large FM partnerships encompassing hundreds of properties around the world and thousands of transitioning employees. As complex as your system may be, it’s nothing an experienced FM provider hasn’t seen before.

Myth #6: FM partnering is only good for accreditation purposes.

Myth, Debunked: When you assume that an FM partner is only valuable for compliance surveys, you overlook the larger impact that FM can have on reducing risk and advancing your healthcare mission.

While the care setting has long been considered a meaningful aspect of the patient experience, it’s beginning to take on new prominence for the quality of care itself, from compliance issues to patient comfort concerns. Your FM partner can help achieve your vision of the patient experience from a facilities perspective.

For patients and their families, the initial impression of a facility’s cleanliness, aesthetic appeal, comfort and safety contributes directly to a sense of trust and confidence that can impact patient outcomes. Partnering with an FM service provider can be instrumental in making the critical connection between place and patient to provide a consistent, positive experience in all of your facilities.

Potential rewards include not only happier, healthier patients, but also improved scores on the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey, which gives consumers the ability to compare hospitals quickly. A hospital can significantly improve its score by looking carefully at its physical environment.

FM partnering also can reduce risks to patient and staff safety—and your brand reputation—through the application of consistent standards and processes. A poorly maintained HVAC, for example, can cause fluctuations in air temperature and humidity that impair operating room sterility and increase the risk of hospital-acquired infections. Similarly, air pressure malfunction can impair airflow and enable a dangerous infectious agent to spread from a quarantined area to vulnerable patients and staff elsewhere.

Inappropriate or poorly maintained room fixtures and furnishings could enable a patient with mental illness to harm themselves or others.

The more critical and sophisticated the activities happening within a healthcare facility, the greater the connection between FM and quality of care. When a patient and their family feel safe and comfortable in their physical environment of care, the patient experience improves and positively affects outcomes.

Is it time to reconsider an FM partnership?

Your real estate and facilities can be a new source of potential savings and enhanced patient care. An FM partnership is an opportunity to save millions of dollars through operational efficiency improvements and energy savings, while ensuring safety and regulatory compliance across your facilities. And, your collaboration can play a pivotal role in transforming your real estate into a strategic asset, rather than a costly investment, in support of your mission to enrich and save lives.