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Mitigating Disease Spread in Healthcare Facilities This Winter

Healthcare facilities must comply with Infection Control Risk Assessment requirements despite labor shortages, tight capital budgets, and lack of appropriate equipment. Renting equipment from a knowledgeable provider offers an effective approach to overcome those challenges.

Indoor air quality plays a critical role in keeping patients and staff safe in your healthcare facility. Follow these four guidelines to fight three serious illnesses.

Instead of a single focus this season, the healthcare community faces a triple threat of viruses—COVID-19, influenza, and respiratory syncytial virus or RSV. COVID-19 is changing with every Omicron subvariant, flu is making a reappearance after several years of low incidence, and seasonal RSV has already led to high hospitalization this fall.

The potential for infection from these viruses makes maintaining good indoor air quality (IAQ) in healthcare units a top priority. Patients and staff spend many hours in these facilities and need protection from hospital acquired infections. Infectious diseases are often airborne, so controlling dust and moisture is essential to keep vulnerable populations and hardworking caregivers safe.

The intersection of IAQ and HVAC

A facility’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system manages heating and cooling but also handles a number of other tasks, including filtering, humidifying, dehumidifying, pressurizing, and exhausting air. These can all impact IAQ.

For example, proper filtration keeps dust and particles in raw air from being drawn into a facility. Dehumidification slows or eliminates microbial growth due to excessive relative humidity. And proper pressurization prevents transmission of airborne bacteria from patient isolation rooms.

Ventilation and filtration continue to be essential to improve IAQ. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed four key guidelines to maintain buildings for the well-being of occupants. They’re just as relevant now. Here’s a look at each one and the equipment required to implement it.

4 Key ASHRAE Guidelines

Strategies to improve IAQ often place higher demands on building HVAC systems. But your budget may not let you replace your system or even upgrade it depending on age or design. Temporary, supplemental HVAC solutions can help while you come up with a long-term solution.

1. Increase outside air.

ASHRAE guidelines for healthcare call for a minimum of 2 air changes per hour of outdoor air and 6 to 15 changes per hour of total air, but facilities should aim for even greater total air. Critical environments such as surgery rooms should receive at least 12 to 15 air changes per hour. Supply air temperature should exceed room air temperature by no more than 15ºF.

Specialized equipment: Negative air machines, supplemental HVAC units

To create a negative air room for isolation, you need to pull out more air than the HVAC system puts in. Negative air machines create negative air space but often call for double or triple the usual airflow from an HVAC system, requiring supplementation. It’s also vital to tightly seal the space until you can install a permanent solution.

2. Upgrade air filters.

ASHRAE recommends filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) of 13 or 14 and even higher filtration in specialized environments. That level of filtration can reduce airflow and cause a pressure drop just when you need pressure differentials. To increase flow, speed up fans or increase frequency of variable frequency drives.

Specialized equipment: Temporary filter solutions, supplemental HVAC units, and air scrubbers

You may run into three issues while upgrading air filters:

  • Older HVAC systems without room for larger, thicker filters
  • Higher rated filters that cause a drop in airflow through your system
  • Need for a HEPA filtration strategy for a room or entire building

Renting HVAC units in the short term lets you use filters with higher MERV ratings and add more air with supplemental equipment. To remove 99.97% of contaminants, you can also implement filtration using air scrubbers with three-stage filtration.

3. Install UV-C Lighting

UV-C lighting can disinfect facilities with specific mitigation needs. Most direct UV-C radiation is harmful to human skin and eyes, so installing in a duct is the safest option.

Specialized equipment: UV-C lighting

You can rent air conditioning, air handling units, and stand-alone air purification units equipped with UV-C lighting kits to use during maintenance processes.

4. Maintain relative humidity between 40% and 60%.

Keeping relative humidity between 40% to 60% is critical to minimize survival rates for microorganisms. ASHRAE also recommends a temperature between 70ºF and 75ºF.

Specialized equipment: Environmental monitoring systems

An environmental monitoring system can ensure you maintain the optimal temperature, humidity, and IAQ in your healthcare facility. For example, the Sunbelt Air Monitoring System (SAMS) monitors and records environmental conditions, alerts building managers if temperature and humidity stray from the desired range, and provides 24/7 data for decision making.

Sunbelt Rentals can help with any IAQ or HVAC need.

You want the patients in your facility to get healthier and the staff to stay safe and keep providing exceptional care. By following the guidelines above, you can maintain and improve IAQ and fight the triple threat in your healthcare facility this season. Contact a member of our team for a free consultation or to request a quote.