Healthcare

Powering Healthcare Facilities Today – Challenges from COVID-19, Sustainability, and Facility Design | ASCO Power Technologies

Power reliability for hospitals continues to be transformed by the ongoing evolution of backup power solutions. It also continues to be challenged by global events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and more frequent power outages. 

That is what ASCO Power Technologies discussed with Jacek Grabowski, Senior Project Engineer at Leach Wallace Associates, during a recent ASCO Power Industry Perspective Webcast. With more than 21 years of experience designing electrical infrastructure for hospitals, Grabowski discussed the developments from an engineer’s point of view. The exchange is accessible through the Healthcare Industry Perspectives episode of ASCO Power’s Innovation Talk Webinar. The discussion addressed the following points: 

  • COVID-19 and Its Impact
  • Healthcare Facility Design Strategies
  • Sustainable Technologies
  • Digitization in Healthcare

COVID-19 and Its Impact

In the early stage of the pandemic, U.S. hospitals were short of beds and units needed to attend to rising COVID-19 cases. Healthcare facilities responded by establishing intensive care units in recovery rooms, operating theaters, and corridors.  

Project engineers responded with solutions such as temporary facilities deployed in tents outside hospitals and in other outdoor locations. This increased capacity for screening people for infections and serving those admitted for treatment. Despite their temporary nature, backup power systems like generator transfer switches were necessary to support these sites. Critical power solutions for healthcare facilities such as portable generators were integrated to secure continuity of care should outages occur and to maintain code compliance.     

Healthcare Facility Design Strategies

Healthcare facility experts are incorporating what they’re learning from the pandemic into long-term solutions. This entails upgrading HVAC systems, adding more physical barriers to limit the spread of infectious pathogens, installing stronger exhaust systems and more. Grabowski shared that these learnings were applied to projects in both the planning and construction stages. 

Apart from the pandemic, the healthcare industry faces other shifts such as increased centralization and digitization of processes. Grabowski added how outsourcing has made more apparent the absence of experts with intimate knowledge of the buildings they are operating. This resulted in the loss of continuity in operations and required engineers to spend more time studying buildings before introducing solutions. 

But time is of the essence in healthcare. Engineers had to consider the time it takes to get project approvals and regulatory permits. They worked with regulators to create a process that allowed them to start construction while processing the paperwork. The concurrent permitting and building process required extensive consulting and trust-building between regulators and engineers. Their efforts did not go to waste as they helped create needed, fully functioning facilities at an efficient rate.  

Sustainable Technologies

The healthcare industry hasn’t been known as the leading user of sustainable energy. But with increasing initiatives such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), more hospitals are incorporating green energy into their systems through small but impactful ways, including installing solar panels on parking decks. In addition, more hospitals have expressed interest in solutions such as putting solar panels inside hospital rooms. There has been an increase in inquiry for this sustainable solution and although most clients have yet to install these, Grabowski sees their growing awareness as progress.  

Other energy solutions, like microgrids, are being adopted by healthcare facilities to reduce their carbon footprint and drive power reliability. Energy storage was also discussed, including an option to parallel both diesel and natural gas when facilities are reluctant to transition entirely from diesel. Doing this enables facilities to retain the fast response of diesel for startup and load changes while benefitting from the sustainability of natural gas for powering the majority of loads.  

Digitization in Healthcare

Today, the healthcare industry utilizes equipment with advanced data collection, power monitoring, and integration capabilities. These systems often create a data repository that could be assessed using Artificial Intelligence to streamline preventive maintenance. Grabowski shared that this technology can help facilities optimize operations by detecting problems before failures occur. It could also help facilities evaluate whether they are under-maintaining or over-maintaining backup power equipment. This way, they can focus their resources on the equipment that warrants the most attention. Nevertheless, hospitals may not be ready to relinquish control of their power system as threats like cyberattacks continue to loom. 

Conclusion 

Healthcare is always changing. The COVID-19 pandemic that began in March 2020 accelerated changes in the industry. Conversations like this help illuminate the changing practices and technologies that improve healthcare facilities and their electrical infrastructure.  

It’s important to keep talking about these changes so that innovators and stakeholders can extend each other’s capabilities to better serve patients. To see ASCO Power’s original interview with Jacek Grabowski, click on our recorded interview session 

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