For Garrett Benge, his career at the intersection of healthcare and construction is the perfect combination of his family’s passions. He grew up on the job sites of the residential and small commercial construction company his father owns, while his sister followed in their mother’s footsteps and became a nurse.
“In my family and extended family, you’re either in construction or you’re in healthcare, I guess,” jokes Benge, now the vice president of project and construction management at Flagship Healthcare Properties. “And me? Well, I found a way to be in both worlds.”
That career choice was a little more difficult for Benge to make in his early years. He’s always harbored a deep commitment for helping others, and he thought healthcare would be the ideal route. But the sight of blood quickly required him to realign his career path.
“I still wanted to somehow be involved in healthcare,” Benge remembers. “And it was actually my mother who suggested I look into healthcare construction. I was so naive at the time; I didn’t even think that was a path.”
Benge’s pivot into this unknown field underlines a word he mentions a lot: adaptability. Whether it’s charting a new path for himself, handling the uncertain swings of the real estate and construction market, or taking on a pandemic, it’s one quality that has always served the VP well.
With a healthcare degree and a construction-heavy background, Benge found himself perfectly suited for a niche that healthcare organizations realized they were having trouble filling. “It’s just not very often that someone has background in both of these fields,” the VP explains. “It’s what got me started in my career, and it’s lead me to being brought in several times to be a catch-all for everything from property to construction manager.”
After five-and-a-half years of rising through promotions at Novant Health, Benge came to Flagship just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic. Adaptability, again, become the essential component. A new urgent care for the CaroMont Regional Medical Center was on track to be unlike any other urgent care they had built previously. The pandemic put it all into flux.
“We had to consider that there might be people walking into this urgent care infected with COVID-19,” Benge explains. “In order to address these issues, you start branching away from what your original model and plan of action were and how you’re traditionally used to doing things.”
New ideas were immediately put into action. Certain rooms for patients who may have the virus were outfitted with airflow and self-contained exhaust systems that would prevent air from circulating into other rooms, keeping the remainder of patients and staff free of transmission as much as possible. After the infected patient has left, the air can be cycled out. “It was a complete change of mechanical scope,” Benge says. “But it fits the need. Needs are always changing, and you just have to prepare to adapt the best that you can.”
It’s not just COVID-19 that provides challenges. The daily climbing costs of construction materials often renders budgets an almost instant historical document of a bygone era. “When you are creating budgets that are six months to a year out, you just have no idea what the climate is going to look like,” Benge says. “I always try and think about what we’ve accomplished so far, and to remember that I will get through this, no matter how challenging it may seem right now.”
The pandemic has offered Flagship a unique opportunity to plan for the next great challenge. “From a construction standpoint, we need to look at what worked, what didn’t, and how can we be more prepared next time,” Benge points out. “Do we stick with the same growth initiatives? Do we stick with the same kinds of buildings? The answer is both yes and no, and the challenge is figuring out how to adapt for something that you can’t always define.”
During the height of the pandemic, Benge and his team were still able to complete a national, award-winning 15,000-square-foot development project for UNC Health. The new expansion provides a much-needed family physician care space coupled with an urgent care unit to the citizens of Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. The UNC Physicians Network Medical Office Building received the prestigious award of “Best New Medical Office of 2020 under 25,000 Square Feet” presented by Healthcare Real Estate Insights.
Along with finishing projects in the middle of a health crisis, Benge is looking forward to tackling a new spine center for the OrthoCarolina healthcare organization. The six-story, 106,000-square-foot building and parking deck will be a truly unique project that will act as a hub for the best and brightest minds in their fields.
In all of these projects, Benge credits his success to his belief system and connection to community. “I think what continues to motivate me is my faith in Jesus Christ . . . and my relationships and engagement with wonderful people in that atmosphere,” the VP says. “I really believe that the best leaders are the best servants.”