FM Spotlight

Steve Friedman - Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Published on: December 18, 2020 

Steve Friedman is a senior industry leader, bringing more than 32 years of engineering design, infrastructure and construction experience to the healthcare sector. His focus is on implementing proper healthcare design standards; sustainable, resilient facility modelling, and energy-efficient construction delivery to ensure patient safety and comfort.

Steve manages the engineering department of facilities Design + Construction at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), overseeing a multimillion-dollar capital program for its $5M+ square foot New York City hospital, research and clinical-laboratory space as well as New York/New Jersey regional healthcare real estate. 

“Steve has led all facility engineering design initiatives since 2012 for MSK’s Dynamic Capital Development Program. He and his engineering staff have developed engineering solutions that enable MSK’s built environment to implement improved patient outcomes, precision medicine initiatives, improved operational efficiencies, and enhanced patient and staff experience. Steve has the unique ability to develop state-of-the-art engineering strategies during early conceptual design phases that can be delivered and operated at national, regional, and local competitive price points and continues to be a key player in all MSK capital-project planning initiatives.” — Gary Acord, AIA, Vice President of Facilities Management Design + Construction at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK)

What is one thing no one knows about you?

“Growing up, I took care of and rode horses and even taught at a riding school while in junior and senior high school. Also, I applied and was accepted to a veterinary science program because I wanted to become a veterinarian to take care of these animals. However, I decided to pursue the engineering field because of a strong interest in mathematics and sciences. A funny story we can relate to: I was going down for career development in high school to see my guidance counselor in the senior year. My counselor happened to be a good friend of the family, so it didn’t take him very long to get comfortable with the relaxed communication. He asked what I wanted to do after high school, and I immediately replied, ‘I don’t, I kind of like it here – it’s fun playing sports, no real responsibility. Why graduate?!’

Somehow that was the wrong answer and was told I must do something, ‘Let’s see, Steve. Let’s look at your academics; you’re short (him being nice) on the English and history front but excellent with math and sciences. How about becoming an engineer?’ My immediate response was, ‘You mean like drive a train?’ He rolled his eyes and said, ‘Not exactly,’ and told me I’d get tuned up in engineering by my college professors. Here I am, 32 years later.”

How did you get into the Facilities/Workplace field?

“I have spent the better part of my career as a design professional in the healthcare sector. In 2012, I received a call from MSK, asking if I’d consider joining their facilities management team to manage and oversee engineering infrastructure as well as construction. Thinking on it for a while, I concluded that I’ve put in my time in the design field and maybe this was a new opportunity to share my experiences with this group and to be a contributor in the success at this world-class healthcare institution.

Over the course of my design career, I had the pleasure of working with some of the most brilliant minds in the New York area. I’d have to say that my greatest experience was with Mr. Tom Breglia, PE, at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. I watched him develop strategic engineering infrastructure initiatives that would see a huge capital-improvement program amongst the 16M+ square feet of hospital scattered over the island of Manhattan. He, to me, is one of the most inspirational leaders in healthcare-facilities engineering, so I took on the same forward-thinking approach here at MSK. It has been very successful, and I am grateful for the knowledge and opportunity to carry it forward.

Another reason for this decision was a very personal one for me. I have lost quite a few people to cancer, including my mom (in this very hospital) 25 years ago, and although I am not qualified to medically treat these patients, I will absolutely do my part to make sure the built environment is at its best, relative to comfort and life safety; this is the very least I could do with my expertise.

I’ve learned that, while healing patients is mostly science and medicine, the emotional aspect of a safe and comfortable environment must be a contributor to help reduce the anxiety patients and their families struggle with when inside of a hospital. My motto and directive is, and will always be, ‘Patients first!’ You don’t know how strong you really are until strong is your only option. Let that sink in.”

Tell us about a favorite project highlight.

“While there are so many, I would have to say that it’s the design and construction of the 760,000-square-foot David H. Koch Center for Cancer Care at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City would be at the top of my list. This facility is one of the most iconic and state-of-the-art outpatient healthcare facilities in the United States. There are so many attributes to this highly energy-efficient facility, but, more importantly, it is built with storm protection and infrastructure resiliency measures based upon lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy, which basically closed many healthcare facilities in the New York Metropolitan Area. This building is designed to continuously operate during adverse weather conditions, as well as during any loss of utility power from the grid. Patient care is never weather dependent, period!

I was interviewed last October by NBC News 4 because of the resiliency measures we have in place based upon the building’s adjacency to the East River and the floodplain. The success of this building starts with a carefully thought-out, properly built environment. Once that is in place and is fully operational, we turn the building over to our administrative and medical professionals to deliver the best cancer care available. This facility has been designed for the next 50 years with program flexibility to serve our patient population.”

Tell us about a challenge or obstacle that you face in the Real Estate/Facilities world.

“If I had to pinpoint a large variance between healthcare and commercial real estate, I would say that, in healthcare, having unfinished or incomplete construction does quite a disservice to the staff and patient-care access. New York City healthcare real estate is at a major premium, so we are continuously challenged to shorten construction times in order to minimize the loss of patient care delivery. We are always looking for new technologies to build with the same or better quality, which will create efficiencies in construction completion.

Challenges more specific to my role in engineering infrastructure include looking at the capital program over a 3-to-5-year time period, and implementing any new required mechanical or electrical infrastructure necessary to ensure that when a program is slated to be built and/or being built, that infrastructure connection points are in place. The best business model for engineering healthcare is that it is better to be looking AT it than FOR it.’ Therefore my facilities engineering team must stay ahead of the capital program’s needs in order to deliver the project on time.”

What learning experience would you pass onto future FMs?

“The best advice I could give is to be as proactive as possible in learning about your facility and to go in thinking of it as you would your home and treat it the same. Look outside the box of the ‘norm’ and think of the management-style ideologies that you’d like to bring to the table. Always treat everyone with the utmost respect, as they bring their areas of expertise to the facility, know that you are unable to be successful without all the pieces of the puzzle in place. Building strong and diverse teams is always the pathway to success. Empower your staff, give them the tools to be successful and allow them to grow. That’s how I pay it forward.

I am truly blessed to work with these incredible healthcare-minded professionals here at MSK. It is best to always listen first because, if you’re doing all the talking, you’re not listening or learning,” and more importantly, you don’t ever want to be the smartest person at the table. It can only make you a stronger leader to have to think for yourself.”

Interviewed by Sonya Verny, MCR, Operations Director of Business Development in the Americas at Mace Group, IFMA NYC Secretary & Executive Committee Oversight for the Communications Committee