Automated building systems support the various critical care efforts that hospitals carry out every day. One such vital component includes the commercial HVAC system that manages indoor climate control and airflow. Hospitals receive patients with potentially infectious diseases, treat the immunocompromised, and maintain a steady rotation of doctors and staff interacting with people from all walks of life. The commercial HVAC system in the healthcare facility can help limit the spread of airborne pathogens to one another. As a result, the system reduces the likelihood of spreading infectious diseases to the surrounding community. So, how does a hospital commercial HVAC system accomplish this public health and safety endeavor?
Positive and Negative Pressure Rooms
Hospitals need to maintain positive and negative pressure atmospheres in several different rooms throughout the facility, depending on their function. Positive pressure rooms ensure airborne pathogens do not infiltrate and contaminate the supplies or patients in that room. The air is regularly circulated out and does not go back. Air from the surrounding environment also does not go into the room. This is typically how operating rooms and some patient rooms are set up.
Conversely, rooms with negative air pressure allow outside air in but trap the potentially harmful particles in the air from spreading to other parts of the facility. The carefully filtered air is exhausted outdoors to prevent the spread of infectious particles within the hospital setting. For this reason, airborne infection isolation rooms (AIIR) are kept at a negative air pressure, as are waiting rooms, triage, restrooms, laboratories, autopsy rooms, decontamination rooms, and even janitors’ closets.
Maintaining Negative Pressure in Isolation Rooms
While the commercial HVAC system maintains the correct air transfer rate and direction, healthcare workers abide by procedures to keep the air pressure constant. Anterooms serve as the mid-way for the pressure systems to adjust before the doors open into the isolation room or the hospital hallway. The anteroom’s pressure relationship to the shared space of the hospital needs to be gauged before allowing select staff to pass.
Room temperature and humidity levels should accommodate patients’ comfort. However, keep in mind the ambient conditions can impact bacteria and virus survival. Individual room control and monitoring can let hospitals adjust the climate conditions in each patient’s room to control for pathogenic growth.
Air Change Rate
In conjunction with climate controls, the HVAC system’s management of air change rates implicates the hospital environment too. Diseases that spread through saliva (such as when a patient sneezes or coughs), the droplets expelled into the air will drop to the surrounding surfaces. As the room environment causes the droplets to evaporate, the pathogens can remain suspended in the air for an indeterminate amount of time. A more frequent air change rate reduces the likelihood of spreading the now-airborne particles to others.
Maintenance and Power Supply
The hospital commercial HVAC system “cleans” the exhausted air through high-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filters before directing the air outdoors. These filters trap more than the harmful microscopic pathogens, so they must be kept adequately clean at all times. Fortunately, sensors help maintenance staff determine when the filters should be changed, and if there are any system defects. More importantly, the HVAC system needs to be engaged at all times. New and resilient hospital power supplies can guarantee this critical system never fails, or at least has a back-up power system in place.
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