There are few environments where SMACNA HVAC standards are more critical than a hospital operating room.
Hospitals have unique indoor air quality needs. Air flow, pressure, temperature, and humidity are all closely monitored to safeguard the air that patients’ breathe, therefore HVAC equipment selection and installation needs fall under extreme scrutiny. That is why Medxcel chose SMACNA firm Central Consolidated Inc. to replace an air handler that serves the west pod of the surgical unit at Via Christi Hospital, St. Francis in Wichita, Kansas.
Wichita-based Central Consolidated has been doing facility maintenance with the hospital for about five years, and working on the air handler upgrade was important on many levels. “It was a monumental project for the hospital, for our community, and our employees,” said Joseph Samia, president of Central Consolidated.
“We have much history with Central Consolidated and they are very familiar with the HVAC systems, hospital operations, infection control needs, and ILSM (interim life safety measures) needs,” said Suja Mathew, project manager for Medxcel. The hospital and Central Consolidated are now in the planning stages to replace the east pod air handling unit in the future.
The Central Consolidated team used SMACNA’s HVAC Duct Construction Standards – Metal and Flexible to design the high-pressure duct spiral duct construction meeting +6-inch pressure class and duct seal class A. These and other specifications help improve the patient’s surgical environment and minimize the spread of airborne contaminants. The new air handler unit design also used ASHRAE standards to provide the hospital with 36,000 cfm, 16 complete air changes per hour, and coordinated performance with existing systems in the facility.
SMACNA's duct construction standards are complemented by a list of additional health and safety standards written specifically for hospitals and projects like the improvements to St. Francis’ operating rooms. The Joint Commission, ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers), and ICRA (Infection Control Risk Assessment) are some of the other sources for health and safety requirements that impact the design and installation of HVAC equipment in health care settings.
“The SMACNA standards are a critical part of our job as far as the construction standards we use during the fabrication process,” said James Sharp, Central Consolidated’s superintendent for the recent air handler replacement project. “They ensure we fabricate our duct to withstand the pressure classes they will encounter under normal operation.”
“You have to strictly follow all these guidelines,” Sharp continued. “It's a big deal.”
According to Sharp, alarms will sound in the hospital when air quality does not meet requirements. “We installed some new dampers to make it easier to adjust and fine-tune the system,” he added.
Martin Case, Central Consolidated’s project manager, said that adhering to all the various standards wasn't, in fact, the biggest challenge with the air handler replacement. The challenge was installation time. They only had a weekend to get the new 98,000-pound air handler up to a ninth-floor roof, all while minimizing disruptions to normal hospital operations.
With such a large air handler unit (AHU), Central Consolidated had to hoist it up in eight separate sections, then assemble them together. The new air handler features two enclosed maintenance vestibules on each side that contained lighting and electrical outlets to accommodate future maintenance needs. They are enclosed to protect against the elements. The AHU also contains chilled water and steam coils, five filter banks, fan banks equipped with modules, a desiccant wheel (for dehumidification), steam injection humidifiers, and ultraviolet air surface treatment.
During hoisting time, Mathew said the hospital had to orchestrate its operations very carefully. They managed the installation around the emergency department ambulance parking area and the hoisting radius area to meet OSHA compliance requirements. Planning for that day required the involvement of multiple hospital stakeholders to deliver a project that met security, life safety, facility quality control, and clinical needs.
“It was a very sensitive, complex project,” she explained. “It takes a village to do a project like this as well as outstanding team communication.”
In Kansas, Via Christi Health operates nine hospitals and 75 other sites of care and employs more than 6,000 associates. Across the state, Via Christi provided $100.7 million in community benefit and care of persons living in poverty in fiscal year 2017.
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