We think of hospitals as havens where the sick can go to heal from injury and disease. The thought that our healthcare facilities can play a significant role in spreading disease rarely crosses most of our minds. But unfortunately, hospitals and care institutions can be instrumental in spreading illnesses to a startling number of patients if proper precautions aren't taken. Especially with the recent outbreak of Ebola causing renewed infectious disease panic, it's more important than ever for managers of these facilities to know how to minimize risk.
Understanding healthcare-associated infections
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined healthcare-associated infections, or HAIs, as a disease contracted while a patient is receiving medical treatment in a facility. They can be transmitted through a variety of means, including contact with contaminated bodily fluids, surgical equipment or injections - and some are even airborne.
The CDC estimated that approximately 5 percent of patients at a given time are fighting off an HAI. In fact, 2011 saw an estimated 721,800 such infections among patients in acute-care hospitals, and data reported on by FacilityDude indicated that 5,000 deaths related to airborne infections occur annually.
Putting pressure on HAIs
One of the principal tools FMs have at their disposal for combating HAIs is controlling pressure differential in their facilities. Essentially the goal is to make sure that air is flowing through the facility from "clean" rooms to "dirty" ones, and not the other way around, and this is done by ensuring contaminated areas are kept under low pressure, while keeping cleaner rooms more pressurized. These guidelines have been dictated by ASHRAE, whose Standard 170-2013 was enacted to govern the ventilation of healthcare facilities. According to the Standard, facilities should aim for a pressure differential of 0.01 inches of water column, positive or negative.
While ASHRAE standards have established parameters for maintaining pressure differentials, there is currently no standard regulating how often these systems need to be tested. Like most items of preventive maintenance, testing is a topic of some discussion throughout the industry. FacilityDude’s strategic partner MSL Healthcare Partners addressed testing pressure differentials in a three part blog series. Issues covered in the series included testing frequency recommendations, areas that should have routine testing, and other considerations FMs should take into account to ensure pressure differentials are functioning properly. Armed with this information, healthcare facility managers can help minimize the spread of HAIs.