Two Healthy Building Certifications on MOB Owners’ Radar

By Drew Arvay

Medical office buildings and other healthcare facilities follow strict protocols for cleanliness, accessibility, and maintenance. But can a building actually improve the health of its occupants?  Two major healthy building certifications — WELL Building Standard® and Fitwel® — dare to do just that.

The two building certifications focus on the health and well-being of building occupants and are similar in many ways. However, they differ on a number of key points.

While both the Fitwel and WELL certification programs have a similar goal of maximizing the health and well-being of buildings occupants and tenants, they have different approaches and focus. Fitwel is centered around the community inside and outside of the building, and offers a more straightforward way of attaining that information. WELL takes a deeper dive into individual spaces, measuring things like air quality and water quality.

Here’s a more comprehensive summary of the two programs:

WELL Building Standard

The International WELL Building Institute is the guiding body behind this program. WELL sets building requirements that are continuously monitored and documented, similar to LEED green certification. Seven categories are addressed: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind. Within each category, the building operation and design are addressed along with their impact on human health and well-being.

Launched in 2014, WELL standards are usually implemented at the design and build stage. Architects and designers consider WELL standards when drafting floorplans and evaluating products. The focus is on the medical science of comfort at the tenant space and building level. Like LEED, credits are awarded based on standards measured per square foot.  871 projects totaling more than 165 million square feet in 34 countries are now applying WELL standards.

Cleveland Clinic opened its first WELL certified space in 2016. The Center for Functional Medicine Suite is open concept to facilitate collaboration between care teams. Designers chose low-VOC products, special lighting, and water filtration systems with an eye for certification. Workstation layouts, HVAC systems, and inspirational artwork contribute to high user satisfaction.

Fitwel Certification

Fitwel was developed as a public health initiative by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the General Services Administration (GSA). Fitwel strategies fall into seven categories: Impacts Community Health, Reduces Morbidity & Absenteeism, Supports Social Equity for Vulnerable Populations, Instills Feelings of Well-Being, Provides Healthy Food Options, Promotes Occupant Safety, and Increases Physical Activity. Building certification criteria are interconnected and flexible, taking a mix-and-match approach based on the needs of a particular building and community.

Fitwel certification addresses health and well-being in existing buildings, rather than new construction. Outcomes are measured based on evidence of efficacy at the building and community level. Fitwell offers three certification levels, and all 55+ strategies are voluntary. Currently, more than 23 million commercial and residential buildings implement Fitwel strategies impacting 154 million occupants.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a health benefit plan provider, cites the health and well-being of employees as central to their talent management strategy. The organization uses Fitwel as a guide for healthy, productive work environments across their entire portfolio.

For medical office building owners that wish to improve the health and well-being of their tenants who do just that for their patients, these two building certification standards are worth considering.

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