The Future Is... Hospitals Prepared for Pandemics
Engineer Dave Rausch breaks down how the secret to helping stop the spread of contagions lies in the air.
In hospitals, there is a powerful force that helps stop the spread of viruses and bacteria.
Behind the scenes, actually, above the ceiling tiles, that force is working to protect hospital workers, visitors and patients.
The source? The hospital’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, which can exhaust the dirty air and replace it with clean air.
Listen to The Future Is... podcast to hear Dave, an engineer and expert with about two decades of experience in controls for critical environments in health care facilities.
For a quick explanation of how it all works, Dave answered our questions below:
Q: How can the air help stop the spread of germs?
A: Typically, an HVAC system in a hospital maintains temperature, humidity and airflow.
But the way that air moves about a room, particularly in a critical environment, is not always consistent or reliable.
However, when that air flow can be controlled reliably, in a specific direction, viruses and bacteria will be exhausted out of a room.
That’s because the air flow creates negative pressure. You get negative pressure when you pull more air out of a space than you put into it.
That’s key to make sure all the “dirty” air is removed from a room. That dirty air is then exhausted into the atmosphere where it is diluted or it can be filtered.
That process reduces hospital occupants’ exposure to viruses and bacteria, maintaining a healthy environment for patients and workers.
Q: Why is air flow important in hospitals?
A: Air flow is important in hospitals because it provides the right kind of environmental quality to reduce the infection risk.
If you don’t have good air flow, rooms will contain viruses, bacteria and particulates that can contribute to an airborne infection.
Removing all that airborne matter reduces infection risk of patients or hospital staff or visitors.
In general, air flow is the main mechanism in hospitals that can clean the air within patient spaces.
To address air cleanliness, regulations require the air to be changed in a room a certain number of times per hour. Regulations also require directional pressures for each space in a hospital. Within hospitals, different rooms have different requirements. For example, operating rooms have more stringent standards than patient rooms.
Q: Are existing hospital air flow systems able to meet the demands for today’s pandemic and future outbreaks?
A: Current technology in hospitals do not maintain reliable, directional pressure consistently nor do they offer the flexibility to transition existing spaces into pandemic-ready spaces.
Pressure is often compromised in health care facilities because of the ageing mechanical infrastructure and lack of adaptability within the HVAC systems.
Technology that provides precise control can guarantee reliable, stable, directional airflow, which is the key to containing viruses and bacteria.