The Hercules File
- President and CEO of WJH Health, Orlando, Fla.
- 2018 president of the American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA)
- National Council of Architectural Registration Boards registered architect in Florida, Colorado, Missouri and Illinois
• AIA Florida strategic council member
- ACHA-certified architect, fellow and board of regents member
- American Institute of Architects (AIA) fellow, Florida fellows representative and Orlando board of directors health care chair
- American College of Healthcare Executives faculty member
- State of Florida ACHA seminars leadership team
- Florida Foundation for Architecture chair, board of trustees, benefactor
- AIA Orlando Medal of Honor recipient
- American Society for Health Care Engineering PDC Summit program review task force member
- Boston Architectural College, master’s degree in architecture
- Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Mass., certificate with a health care focus
- Washington University in St. Louis, bachelor’s degree in architecture
William J. Hercules, FAIA, FACHA, LEED AP, president of the American College of Healthcare Architects (ACHA), discusses the certification organization’s efforts to reconfirm its purpose and align with its peer organizations as well as experiences that have helped inform his own career in the health care design field.
What have been your objectives as ACHA president?
Over the past few years, the ACHA was reconfirming its transcendent purpose — what is its value and what distinguishes board certification in health care architecture from that of other organizations in the health care design space? That quest clarified our purpose.
This clarity has allowed us to align ourselves better with our peer architectural organizations — the Academy of Architecture for Health (AAH), the AAH Foundation and the Facility Guidelines Institute. It has re-established a cooperative spirit within our profession unseen for decades, and upon which we are creating joint initiatives to increase the value of health care architects to professional collaborators in the health care space, to health system C-suites, to hospital facility directors and, eventually, to the public at large.
At this year’s Summer Leadership Summit in Chicago, the presidents of all four organizations clearly delineated each organization’s role in the context of the others under the banner of the “Pillars of Healthcare Architecture,” the descriptions of which are available on our websites.
Because the ACHA has been known within the profession but largely invisible to those outside of it, the college recently published two videos that articulate the value of board certification in health care architecture to two key audiences: firms and clients, and individual architects who wish to advance their careers.
These videos reside on the ACHA YouTube channel, and are meant to be shared with clients, firm leaders and architectural teams to demonstrate that this distinction matters. This is part of a broader communication strategy designed to elevate the visibility and distinctive qualities of the ACHA.
How did you become involved in health care design?
I knew since junior high school that I wanted to be an architect. My maternal grandfather worked for a design-builder doing banks across the U.S. He had beautiful lettering, drew on linen and rolled his sleeves inside out to keep his sweat from smearing his drawings. He encouraged me with his technical experience and his library of ancient books, impressing upon me that practice is about communicating complex ideas into physical form.
During my collegiate career, I began working for a generalist firm in the Midwest, learning as much as I could about how various building types went together. Early in my tenure at that firm, I was assigned to a health care project. In those days, hospitals were functional extrusions of their physiologically based clinical programs. However, I was smitten with both the complexity of the building type and the client’s organizations, the nobility of helping those imperiled by disease, and the opportunity to improve both the quality of the architecture and the lives of its occupants.
Describe your current position as president/CEO of WJH Health?
After working with regional and international firms, I launched WJH Health several years ago as a national network of thinkers who focused on key gaps in planning future capital investments — most of which are currently facilities. I provide an independent, data-driven viewpoint to help health system executives across the U.S. sort through their future places of care. I also provide health care planning expertise to architectural and strategic planning firms.
What have you learned about executives through your work as a faculty member for the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) that you’ve been able to apply to your career?
Health care executives have been developing and refining their craft for almost a century through the ACHE, which was originally called the American College of Hospital Administrators.
Beyond service-line managers and operational directors, the C-suite executives are generalists — in one way like architects, and in another way by having different skill sets and experiences. Their roles require balancing myriad competing priorities of domains that demand deep specialized knowledge within a fluid and expensive context — and, of course, lives are on the line.
By playing in their space, I’ve developed a deep respect for these leaders. Their primary roles are about shaping cultures of leaders in various domains of expertise and organizing these metateams of tens of thousands of individuals to live out their respective system’s mission.
Stepping outside of my profession as an architect periodically and walking alongside a health system executive offers a perspective and appreciation for how broad their roles are. Yes, they are interested in design and planning at specific times. But after the design events, they expect that product to perform as conceived so that the organization also can perform as expected.
Because of the breadth of knowledge required by executives, most of their interests are not necessarily within design. A few years ago, a few ACHA regents visited the ACHE leaders in Chicago to understand the value of design within their framework. Of their Top 10 education priorities, only three had any relationship to design: population health, operational efficacy and the patient experience. That means that the design professions are largely outside of most of a health system’s value stream. I think there is considerable opportunity in that space.
What do you see as ACHA’s role moving forward?
Board certification, ACHA fellowship, the ACHA Lifetime Achievement Award are all thresholds of career achievement, and they don’t happen in isolation. The ACHA has begun a cooperative project with the AAH to consider the longitudinal career arc of a health care architect, from its precollegiate formative years into retirement, to identify key career mileposts and create mechanisms that deliberately support them.
We believe that this purposeful approach to the specialty can elevate the value of the profession and result in better architecture for our clients. While this aspirational idea may take a few months to fully develop, we are all excited about its potential.
Last year, we began exploring ACHA board certification outside of North America. We found that health care architects in some countries are interested in the American credential. So, we asked ourselves, ‘Could ACHA board certification in health care architecture become the global gold standard against which knowledge, skill, experience and expertise are compared internationally?’ We’ve dispatched a group of international practice veteran architects to work through the operational mechanics of licensure parity, clinical practices and terms, life-safety parity and other details to enable international certification within the ACHA.
We are expecting our first international certificants in 2019.
Mike Hrickiewicz is editor of Health Facilities Management magazine.
Credit: Photo courtesy of the American College of Healthcare Architects