HCD 10: Walt Vernon, construction expert
For 29 years, Walt Vernon has been the CEO of Mazzetti, a mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering and technical consulting company specializing in healthcare. Throughout his career, he has been dedicated to developing and improving the design of healthcare facilities, and the past year has provided new opportunities for making meaningful contributions.
A highlight of this work is Vernon’s role in responding to COVID-19. During this period, he worked with the International Federation of Hospital Engineering (IFHE) and the World Health Care Organization’s Health Technology Science Network Téchne to provide “International Help Services” Taiwan”, the company provides free consulting and design services to medical institutions worldwide to help resolve crises. Vernon and volunteers from Mazzetti recruited 19 design teams, and have finally completed 13 projects so far, including the renovation of an existing healthcare building in Burkina Faso to care for COVID-19 patients, and a design in Haiti Prefabricated screening facilities.
He also led ASHRAE’s position paper on infectious aerosols, which disseminated evidence-based recommendations to manage the threat of airborne pathogens in all types of buildings.
In addition, Vernon sees the pandemic as an opportunity to collect much-needed electrical system data during medical surge events. Despite the challenges during this time, he worked with seven hospitals in four states to install electric meters for a year to better understand electricity demand in the worst case. The goal is to use data to more accurately predict the power demand in future designs in order to achieve more sustainable and cost-effective operations.
In fact, sustainable development and reducing the environmental impact of healthcare facilities have been Vernon’s long-standing passion. In 2020, he co-authored the National Academy of Medical Sciences scoping document on how to reduce healthcare carbon emissions in the next 10-30 years, outlining specific recommendations related to healthcare service provision, infrastructure, and financing.
Following the belief in achieving greater health care resilience by simultaneously pursuing sustainability, Vernon is also exploring the potential of using fuel cells and microgrids in American hospitals to increase electrical resilience while reducing environmental footprint.
What do you like best about your job?
Be able to find new solutions to old challenges.
Who inspired you?
Nelson Mandela. He has the strength and wisdom to overcome the cruelty and injustice imposed on him and his people. He established a common vision for a country where everyone is supported and no one is punished or hurt. He is truly remarkable in human history.
What industry challenges do you hope to solve?
I’m working hard to help decarbonize the industry and show the public health necessity of doing so to the rest of the world.
What do you expect to be the next major trend in healthcare design?
Real decarbonization…We need to consciously design medical service delivery to more actively accept the core importance of carbon. This needs to appear before we consider the material elements; the provision of health services is more fundamental.
What have you learned in the past year?
The power of inertia. Human beings are habitual creatures in almost all aspects of existence. When I try to create the required change, the resistance to this change is usually in the form of a mental model, not a real change. For example, a hamster in a cage-once the cage is removed, it usually stays within the boundary because it thinks the cage is still there. We have a similar mental model. We must figure out how to break the mindset and really change it.