Jill Pearsall – Texas Children’s Hospital
Jill Pearsall says her family moved a lot when she was a child, and they built their house wherever they moved. So, she was around blueprints and construction as a youth.
She liked it so much that going to school to study architecture was an obvious choice. Decades later, as a female facilities executive for the largest children’s hospital in the U.S., Pearsall doesn’t see herself as a trailblazer.
“I’ve been the only woman at the table for most of my career, but I’ve taken the opportunity to help grow female participation in the construction industry,” says Pearsall, the longtime senior vice president of facilities planning and development and real estate services for Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
For over two decades, Pearsall has worked to help Texas Children’s maintain its standing as one of America’s premier pediatric health care facilities. Now, she and her team are working on adding more women’s services and supporting the hospital’s continued expansion, this time into Central Texas.
Improvements to care
Originally, the hospital’s Pavilion for Women—which opened in 2012—was built to allow vertical expansion—plans called for adding eight more floors. In 2016, the organization bought a building across the street from the Pavilion and quickly moved to build a sky bridge to connect the two structures.
“Vertical expansion is costly and challenging, so repurposing the building we purchased to house office spaces and outpatient clinic services achieved our goal of increasing access to health care for women,” Pearsall says.
Pearsall and her team analyzed various factors to ensure that the expansion plan was well-informed and aligned with the hospital’s goals. They looked at projected growth in the areas they served, assessed the demographics and their patients and studied clinical statistics such as C-section rates and neo-natal ICU admissions.
Using these findings, Pearsall and her team developed a phased approach to the expansion. The primary focus was increasing the number of postpartum beds, as this area had the most immediate need. With careful planning and coordination, Texas Children’s aims to complete this phase by the beginning of 2027. Once the work is complete, Pearsall says the facility should have the space to accommodate about 8,500 births annually—right now, it can handle about 6,000 births.
Throughout the expansion process, Pearsall emphasized the importance of collaboration and engagement with hospital staff. She believed in the power of involving clinicians and providers in the decision-making process because they are the ones who best understand patient needs. Virtual meetings have been a key tool in the process, allowing busy health care professionals to give their input and quickly return to work.
“Building is great, but we have to make sure we’re making the right decisions for the patients we serve,” Pearsall says. “We get everyone involved to ensure it’s a true team effort.”
Needing more now and later
Texas Children’s commitment to building for the future—and Pearsall’s, too—extended beyond Houston. In 2018, the organization entered the still-growing Austin market when it opened primary, urgent and specialty care centers in the greater Austin area. Pearsall and her team examined growth projections and studied the local demographics to inform their decisions.
“With our pediatric growth projections, we’re seeing needs throughout the Austin area,” Pearsall says. “We need to use our crystal ball to help us understand the market and the community.”
Anticipating continued growth, Texas Children’s bought a piece of land in South Austin for future expansion. Pearsall says crunching numbers and analyzing data to develop projections is fun. With companies like Apple, Samsung and others moving some operations to Texas, the opportunity to grow in Austin and elsewhere in the Lone Star State isn’t going anywhere.
Every Texas Children’s project has many stakeholders involved in the process. From physicians, nurses and executive leaders to board members and a family advisory council, a collaborative culture exists to ensure everyone’s voice is heard throughout the project’s life cycle.
“We have a good structure with clear levels of responsibility and an understanding of who is charged with what,” Pearsall says. “It provides a lot of clarity during our decision-making discussions.”
A passion to build & design
Pearsall says that moving and building as a kid helped her develop an innate sense of how to create a home. As she grew older, this passion led to her to pursue a degree in architecture from the University of Southern California.
After completing her studies, Pearsall entered the workforce as one of the few female architects at several design firms. After 11 years in that role, she spent nearly four years on the owner’s side at Houston Methodist Hospital in facilities management services design & construction. She then joined Texas Children’s Hospital in 2002 and held various positions before rising to her current role in December 2019.
“When I started architecture school at USC, there was probably a 1-to-5 female and male student ratio,” she says. “That is changing; it might be an even distribution now.”
Female participation in the construction industry is growing a little slower, she says, but Pearsall notes she is seeing more and more females on Texas Children’s project job sites. And with her outreach to her alma mater and local organizations and schools in Houston, Pearsall expects those numbers to keep growing.
“Buildings are growing in complexity, requiring more and more specialties involved in their design and construction, which offers roles for both females and males throughout the project’s life, even without a degree background,” Pearsall says. “With commitment and passion, there is tremendous opportunity and reward in this industry.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. I 2024 Edition here.
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