Andrea Spadafora Kerr, AIA – UMass Memorial Medical Center
There’s a bed shortage at UMass Memorial Medical Center, as there is at many hospitals around the country. Hours may pass before an emergency patient can finally lay down in an appropriate place—a situation intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At this sprawling three-campus facility in Worcester, Massachusetts, the issue is being dealt with. Not as fast as Andrea Spadafora Kerr would like, but as director of strategic facilities planning, she understands there are protocols.
Maybe especially so in academia and healthcare, and the projects she’s overseen here since 2019 have entailed both. But onward they push, UMass Memorial taking on $140 million in comprehensive upgrades and builds, and Kerr minding many of the details.
“For a particular project to move forward, we need to have a business plan that shows how it benefits the clinical, staff, patients and institution overall,” she tells Blueprint in February. “We have to weigh the benefits against costs and decide the appropriate time to do so.”
Bang for the buck
With Kerr weighing in on space perspective and other details, UMass Memorial purchased the Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in August 2021 for $23.5 million. Located on adjacent property to UMass Memorial’s flagship campus, it’s being converted into a 72-bed and imaging facility with completion anticipated for 2025.
Given the complexities at play, Kerr says the process has gone about as smoothly as one could hope. Like many states, Massachusetts has a determination-of-need process for capital projects at healthcare facilities. With Kerr’s assistance, UMass Memorial was able to demonstrate to the state’s Department of Public Health how the Beaumont overhaul will meet a public need, is affordable and won’t adversely affect other hospitals.
On other fronts, Kerr’s department has overseen the consolidation of the University Campus Ambulatory Care Center outpatient cardiology department from one floor to another, which increased the capacity to treat both heart and neurosurgery patients. She’s also involved in plans to upgrade emergency and mental health services.
At the Memorial campus, her department has spent the past year working through the logistical issues of accommodating 19 new beds. This will take some deft maneuvering, including the relocation of four ambulatory programs.
“That’s resulted in 12 enabling projects, all interdependent,” she says. “At a hospital, everything affects something else.”
The big picture
There was a time when Kerr would have been on the floor as a private architect. Since 2017, however, she’s mostly been in an office pondering the big picture, first during her two-year stint as a facilities planner at Boston Children’s Hospital and for the past four years at UMass Memorial. It’s all part of being on the owner’s side, and Kerr’s grown comfortable in the role despite initially wondering if it was for her.
“I had always worked for firms and going in-house seemed a big risk,” she says. “But I had done many projects at Boston Children’s and knew the vice president well. When she told me they needed a planner, I thought ‘what an interesting opportunity.’ I didn’t want to regret not trying it.”
It certainly widened her outlook on healthcare, which she had previously approached through a designer’s mindset during 20-plus years at private firms throughout the Boston area. Now, at UMass Memorial, she’s taken on an even bigger role, Kerr factoring the needs of clinical staff but also into the numbers-crunching and planning phases that must be satisfied before a project itself can commence.
And in healthcare, the stakes always seem higher.
UMass Memorial put on hold very few projects during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. That took some pivoting, she recalls, with the capital planning department donning personal protective equipment and practicing social distancing but still undertaking projects that included the outpatient cardiology department. Pending further positive reviews from the state, she’s hoping to start construction this spring on multiple fronts and tries to stay ahead of the game on the supply sourcing that has vexed so many contractors.
At home in healthcare
As to how she’s come to focus her career on healthcare renovations and upgrades, it’s involved some happenstance. A 1994 Roger Williams University architectural graduate, she worked for several firms, some of whose clientele included Boston’s hospitals. From 2008 to 2017 she was a senior associate at TRO, a healthcare design and engineering firm that in 2018 became part of SmithGroup.
Her TRO experience made her an attractive candidate when Boston Children’s Hospital needed a facilities planner. She might still be there but for the fact that UMass Memorial is, at least by Boston standards, a much easier commute from the Medway home where she’s raised three children.
Two seem to be at least partially following in her tracks: a high school daughter hoping to study interior design and the oldest son taking vocational education courses in high school. Then there’s a 10-year-old son who’s mainly interested in sports.
The imagination and critical thinking that goes into Kerr’s profession does seem embedded in the family’s DNA. Her late father, Michael A. Spadafora, was a UMass mechanical engineering graduate who earned a master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Connecticut.
“As a kid I loved the concept of buildings,” Kerr says. “The idea of design just fascinated me. I would build elaborate spaces for whatever I was playing with—dolls, stuffed animals, my brother’s Matchbox cars.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. III 2023 Edition here.
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