Kaiser works to diversify health care construction

New program aims to boost minority- and women-owned contractors

Kaiser Permanente has created a program to boost participation in health care construction by minority- and women-owned contractors. Joanna Davison, national facility services manager for Kaiser, said more than $1.7 billion in construction projects are planned for Washington and Oregon, including additional facilities in Clark County.

Kaiser Permanente will complete construction of a 65,000-square-foot medical office building at the corner of Fourth Plain Boulevard and Northeast 137th Avenue in summer 2006.

Kaiser Permanente is working to remove barriers it has identified as obstacles for minority contractors. The company has a longstanding commitment to working with union contractors. Davison said many minority contractors are non-union, blocking them from bidding on Kaiser Permanente projects. Additionally, minority firms typically do not have specialized experience in health care construction, which is often complex, said Davison.

According to Davison, the barriers were more pronounced in the Northwest than other regions.

“The Northwest market has some unique factors, but they can be overcome,” said Davison.

The Columbia Pacific Building Trades Council AFL-CIO, which represents unionized construction workers, has agreed to allow participation by minority contractors who sign a Project Labor Agreement to work on specific projects. The non-union contractors would be required to pay union-level wages and benefits to its workers.
The union hopes the minority contractors assisted by the program will be able to grow and eventually become union members.

In addressing the second barrier, Kaiser Permanente has created a mentoring program allowing contractors to gain health care construction experience to meet the organizational and regulatory requirements demanded.

Participation in the program will begin with maintenance and remodel projects worth up to $500,000. Kaiser Permanente staff will provide expertise when needed to help contractors with specific issues, such as submitting bids, estimating and cash-flow projections.

Kaiser Permanente spokesman Jim Gersbach said the company hopes to have 5 percent of its building, maintenance and remodeling projects performed by minority contractors by 2008.

Davison admits the program is also self serving. She said the program will grow Kaiser Permanente’s pool of qualified contractors vying on projects, resulting in more competitive bids.

As many firms and workers look to secure work reconstructing the parts of the country devastated by Hurricane Katrina, increasing the number of candidates for Kaiser Permanente jobs in the Northwest will be important, said Davison.

Davison said health care construction will continue to be a big business, and contractors able to specialize in construction of related facilities will be successful.

“Of all the construction going on,” she said, “I see no reduction in the growth of health care facilities.”
The program was kicked off with a presentation in Portland in February. Davison said 46 of the event’s 200 attending contractors have expressed interest in the program. Following pre-qualification to ensure the contractors are licensed and in good standing, the contractors will become eligible. Davison said an additional 200 contractors are being notified of the program by mail. To learn more about the program, Davison can be reached at 510-625-2885.

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