To say HPS Mechanical Inc. is a Kern County success story would be an understatement.

Nearly six decades ago, the company was founded in Bakersfield by Harry DenHerder as Harry’s Plumbing Service. With one truck Harry used for service calls, the business became recognized for its top-notch work at a reasonable price.

Today, the company, which is known as HPS Mechanical Inc., has offices in Bakersfield and San Diego and a workforce of engineers and technicians that oversee massive new construction and pipeline projects, engineering and plumbing design services in California and Nevada.

But despite all of its success, HPS Mechanical does not ignore its roots. The company’s website still boasts: “From a leaky faucet to a multimillion-dollar plumbing construction contract, HPS does it all!”

HPS Mechanical works on some of Kern County’s and the state’s largest projects, including schools, water plants and oil production facilities. The company also has worked on major hospital facilities, including recent ones in Palmdale, Murrieta and Visalia.

By most accounts, hospital construction projects are among the most complex and challenging in the construction industry. They are impacted by constantly changing codes and standards, including seismic requirements, increasing medical complexity and budget restraints.

But most challenging is often the need to complete projects — such as the remodeling of a hospital wing, updating of a facility’s water- or air-exchange system, or constructing an addition — while the facility still is being operated.

HPS Mechanical’s work on the recent remodeling of the kitchen at Kern Medical Center illustrates this challenge.

“HPS was the general contractor on this kitchen mechanical piping remodeling, which was done in the middle of the existing, operating hospital,” recalled DenHerder. “HPS had to rent a chiller to keep all lines operational until all the new connections were made. HPS determined that the point of connection, as designed, would not work and located a point that would. HPS was able to work with the owner to make this critical path change without delaying the project.”

Hospital construction requires companies, such as HPS Mechanical, to be innovative, flexible and collaborative with building owners and hospital staffs. Above all, work must be done, while maintaining quality medical care and protecting patients.

In today’s competitive health care business, hospitals must balance the need to be competitive, with revenues that often fall short.

For a construction company to successfully meet building owners’ needs, it must understand and address the issues driving projects. These “drivers” include:

Future demands

The U.S. population is aging. While much attention has been paid to boomers, the truth is that people in all generations are living longer, but not necessarily healthier lives. As a result, the demand for health care is expected to grow. And with this growth comes technology advances. Procedures never imagined even a decade ago are requiring hospitals to expand and remodel to provide space and sophisticated systems to accommodate more patients and equipment. Hospitals must plan to meet today’s and tomorrow’s demands.


An aging, outdated hospital will not attract either patients or staff. To stay competitive, a hospital must be “modern.”


We hear a lot about hospital “reimbursement rates.” This is generally the amount federal and state programs, such as Medicare and Medi-Cal, will pay hospitals for services provided to elderly or low-income people. Private insurance companies also set limits. Hospitals are squeezed between providing competitive, advanced services, while containing costs. Building design — such as the arrangement of patient rooms, service delivery systems and staff distribution — is a big part in controlling costs, while providing high-quality service.

Construction funding

No doubt with the increasing demands for more sophisticated hospitals come construction cost increases. With sources of capital often limited, hospitals struggle to make necessary improvements.

Successful construction companies are using collaborative teams that include hospital owners and staffs, subcontractors and even members of the public to develop innovative plans and techniques that contain costs and reduce construction times. For example, 3-D modeling technology, combined with prefabrication of project components, now is commonly used.

“Three-D computer modeling can allow visualization of a design for owner review and construction scheduling” explained DenHerder. “With comprehensive prefabrication in our shop, we can lower man hours in the field.

“Building owners and their construction companies are developing innovative ways — using ‘traditional,’ as well as cutting-edge tools — to help create health care facilities for the future.”

Maureen Buscher-Dang is a Bakersfield public relations consultant.