How building automation systems help deter the spread of infection in hospital environments

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Jeff is the Executive Vice President of Wadsworth Solutions, a Master-level BMS EcoXpert™

In U.S. hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that healthcare acquired infections (HAIs) account for an estimated 1.7 million infections each year. HAIs occur when patients acquire a new disease or infection while in the hospital. Post-surgical infections alone are believed to account for up to ten billion dollars annually in healthcare expenditures, and hospitals are held liable for those costs.

Fortunately, for both patients and hospitals, trend analysis indicates that instances of HAIs are decreasing. Up-to-date smart ventilation technologies driven by building automation systems are helping to reduce these risks by effectively managing airflows across hospital facilities. However, in order to be effective, these systems must be properly designed, operated, and maintained.

Best practices for maintaining healthy airflows

Our company, Wadsworth Solutions, works side by side with facilities staff to help make hospital environments safer for patients and staff. As a Schneider Electric Master-level EcoXpert, we support building owners and portfolio managers in their efforts to automate their facilities and to integrate analytics into their building automation practices. We also advise building owners on methods for optimizing building operations during low-occupancy situations.

Airflow systems are complex, and over the years, we have helped hospitals to implement the proper steps for maintaining the safety of their ventilation. We often recommend that our healthcare clients implement the following best practices:

  • Enhance your ability to log and trend data – Today’s building management systems have more memory available than ever before. More memory increases the system’s ability to compile more data. Better analysis of data allows hospital officials to offer regulators complete and detailed reports surrounding both the rate of air changes in rooms and the rate of energy consumption. Data analytics tools also help facilities staff to work with trending data in order to optimize building performance through data-driven system adjustments.
  • Engineer spaces to allow both positive and negative pressures – Following up on the Six Steps Hospital Facilities Can Take to Reduce the Risk of Spreading Infectious Disease blog from Chris Roberts, Global Solution Architect for Healthcare at Schneider Electric, I thought I would share some more information. In some hospital rooms, positive air pressure (new air coming in) is a strict requirement. In an operating suite, for example, when an operation is occurring, up to 24 air changes per hour are required. Thus, every three minutes, all the air in the room must be completely turned over. In other hospital rooms, negative air pressure is required. Consider rooms that house soiled garments, scrubs, and devices that were used in surgery. Those are rooms that should be kept at a negative air pressure (no air leaves the room and enters nearby rooms). Precision ventilation systems operating without defect are required to maintain such positive and negative air flow conditions.
  • Perform regular maintenance – As fresh air comes in from outside of the building, it is mixed and screened for contaminants. Then that air makes its way through duct work, moving across coils for heating, cooling, and humidification, through a series of filters, and then into the spaces where patients and staff reside. At the same time, inside air is removed and replaced with the new incoming air. Without proper preventative maintenance of these air distribution systems (including regular replacement of filters) building owners invite situations where the risk of airborne mold spores, which contaminate the air supply, increases.
  • Pay attention to damper performance – Within buildings, dampers are used for controlling air flow. The introduction of fresh outside air into the facility, for instance, is controlled by a damper. Some dampers help to mix air while other manage the volume of return air. Most dampers have slats and a very fine mesh screen that operate to control the flow of the air. When a damper malfunction occurs, air quality is impacted, and pre-set airflow parameters are difficult to achieve. Thus, dampers should be inspected and tested on a regular basis in order to ensure safe airflow performance.

To learn more about how digitized building automation solutions can allow modernization and enhance healthcare airflow quality, visit the Schneider Electric EcoStruxure™ web site.

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