By Geremy Wolff, Regional Director – Technical Services
At McKinstry, our mission is to make every building we touch more efficient. “Mission: Possible” is our series featuring people and projects around the country that demonstrate our mission in action.
Sometimes efficiency looks different from how we typically think of it. When McKinstry announced our mission to make every building we touch more efficient, we didn’t know we would be soon facing a pandemic. In one Seattle hospital, efficiency has come to mean re-configuring the HVAC equipment to minimize the spread of infection and keep the frontline healthcare workers and patients safe.
At the University of Washington Medicine’s Northwest Hospital campus, our commissioning, engineering and electrical teams helped convert three floors into a specialized COVID-19 containment ward. One of the main changes made was creating more than 100 negative pressure quarantine rooms. This means potentially contaminated air is passed through HEPA filtration then vented outside instead of back into the building.
Since this work was urgent, our team had to complete an engineering review of systems to confirm impacts of changes to temporary partitioning, patient room airflow, pressure gradients, adjacent spaces and air handling unit (AHU) systems as the work got started. They installed variable frequency drives (VFD) on the AHU supply and exhaust fans that didn’t have them, allowing the fans to be slowed down or sped up to meet the air change and pressure containment requirements of the new quarantine spaces. VFDs reduce airflow by running the motors at different speeds instead of full capacity.
One to two technicians were onsite seven days a week for three weeks as spaces were converted to quarantine rooms which included closure of the return air pathway and installation of HEPA filtered negative air machines. The techs pre-read all supply, return and exhaust prior to any changes to the spaces, then enabled the negative air machines and made adjustments to achieve measurable negative pressure across the doors to patient rooms (which must remain closed). It was important for the techs to perform continual back checks on spaces that had been previously balanced and common non-patient rooms to ensure there were no adverse impacts as new spaces were added to the system.
This is one of many examples of how essential our work is. We’re grateful to help hospital staff stay safe as they care for patients battling COVID-19.
The Today Show did a piece about the hospital’s safe protocol for treating patients. Watch it here.