Hospitals and healthcare facilities across the United States are aging, with some dating back to the World War II era. They’ve certainly been updated and added onto through the years, as modern healthcare needs, technology innovations, and regulatory compliance often dictate renovations or new construction.
A top concern in today’s healthcare system is stemming the risks of infections — ensuring that someone doesn’t seek treatment for a specific condition or infection only to come down with another while at a facility. In addition to the important roles healthcare workers play in mitigating this risk, there are related factors that need to be considered in the design and pre-construction phases of the facilities where they work.
Many parts of a construction design are fixed, such as structural columns, foundations, roofs, etc. However, the use of modular partitions can allow for expansion of rooms as needed to accommodate testing and some surgical procedures without a patient leaving the room. In accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, maintaining isolation is a key factor in reducing the spread of diseases. Containing a patient within a private room minimizes opportunities for the spread of infection to the individual and other parts of the facility. It’s important to allow adequate space and technological capabilities to accommodate such flexibility.
Minimizing the distance between commonly used areas also reduces traffic and unnecessary overlap of individuals between departments or zones. For example, taking a patient on an elevator to a surgical room or testing unit may expose them and others to potential pathogens from multiple floors.
Likewise, strategically placed entrances into the facility, and proper, visible signage help to mitigate risks. Ensuring that visitors and those seeking treatment know where to go upon arrival reduces the chances of them entering restricted areas or walking through multiple corridors to find their destinations. Minimizing exposure to others at check-in desks, ER rooms, outpatient clinics, waiting areas, and other common points of contact helps everyone reduce their risks of infection.
In addition to requirements for sterilization, designing a facility’s layout to ensure that ICU units, surgical facilities, and other critical care centers remain easily accessible makes a major difference in reducing infections. These and other areas can also be equipped with negative pressure that keeps air inside the room and out of HVAC systems where it might circulate to other areas. The Office of Emergency Preparedness at the Minnesota Department of Health notes that the use of negative pressure helps to isolate any airborne pathogens and prevents them from escaping the room.
Positive pressure rooms, on the other hand, use higher air pressure to cause air to exit the room. That way, vulnerable patients with immunocompromised systems can be protected from pathogens getting inside. Specialized climate control equipment is required to achieve negative and positive pressure climates.
Displacing polluted air throughout a healthcare facility is a highly sophisticated endeavor. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued ventilation standards for specialized care environments, with different rooms and functions having unique requirements. Operating rooms, for instance, require stricter controls for airflow and exchange rates. Relative humidity and the percentage of recirculated air can impact the displacement and removal of airborne pathogens, so highly sensitive monitoring, alert, and backup systems are required.
Studies are conducted to accurately determine ventilation needs for each area, as are tests to ensure a proper exchange rate. Increasing ventilation rates has been shown to be an effective strategy for controlling airborne diseases.
Minimizing direct contact with door handles, faucets, receptacles, sinks, and various equipment is another preventative measure for infection transmission, according to the CDC. The use of no-touch entryways, in particular, needs higher scrutiny in healthcare facilities. Technology integrations such as artificial intelligence (AI) and secure access controls to restricted areas must be considered as part of a design strategy. For surfaces where contact is inevitable, antimicrobial-treated products may be used to assist in creating hygienic environments.
Sometimes underappreciated is the role that nature’s disinfectant plays in minimizing the risks of transmission. Structures that feature adequate amounts of UV sunlight throughout not only help improve psychological health, they may assist in disease control. Designing facilities with expansive atriums, rooms and corridors with views to the outdoors does more than just improve aesthetics, it can improve health, too.
These measures are just a snapshot of how the design and construction of a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility can help minimize the spread of infections and disease. Of course, hiring professional healthcare workers who are experienced and diligently follow protocols as they care for patients offers the best measure of success.
Likewise, hiring a professional commercial builder that specializes in healthcare planning, renovations, and new construction can ensure regulatory compliance and make sure healthcare workers are equipped with the tools and environment they need to maintain patient safety and their own.
To learn more about the experienced team of healthcare construction professionals at The Samuels Group, contact us today. We’re happy to discuss your challenges and answer any questions. Speaking of questions, be sure to check out our helpful guide below with the top 10 questions you should ask a general contractor to help you determine if they’re a fit.