Manufacturers’ prescription for hospital, health care facility success

Two manufacturers provide tips on how engineers can make their hospital and health care facility projects more successful.

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer November 27, 2013


Tom Boyle, Southeast regional sales manager, Fike, Blue Springs, Mo.

Sean Goings, CEM, CHSP, SASHE, Manager, U.S. Healthcare Solutions, Schneider Electric, Houston

CSE: What types of tools do you recommend for hospitals and health care facilities? What should be in every engineer’s “toolbox”?

Fike: From a life safety prospective, a responsive service organization that can support all aspects of a safety plan. Access to multiple factory-certified engineered systems distributors with certified technicians that can quickly respond and resolve system issues.

Schneider: We provide efficient infrastructure solutions for the built environment. From electrical distribution equipment to building automation, our products and solutions focus on four key areas of hospital infrastructure: mechanical, electrical, IT, and security. Our solutions lend themselves to a sustainable cycle of lower operating costs, improved clinical outcomes, safety and reliability of facilities, and positive impact to the environment. By converging core infrastructure systems and relevant data, facility operators are enabled to automate cumbersome processes, streamline operations and maintenance, and use interrelated data to better operate facilities. 

Engineers should look to collaborative design processes that foster the early involvement of infrastructure and technology expertise. Most of the equipment installed in the built environment will remain in place for the life of the facility, so efficiency, reliability, and scalability are critical to total cost of ownership. Progressive design practices also help fill the gaps left in the typical construction process. It’s important to harness the technical competency of each infrastructure system to share functional information that drives efficiencies.

CSE: Please describe a recent hospital or health care facility you’ve provided assistance on—share challenges you encountered, how you solved them, and aspects you’re especially proud of.

Schneider: An owner in the process of a large capital improvement program approached Schneider Electric to assist in delivering a new patient tower that performed at a highly aggressive energy use intensity (EUI). The unique challenge is while most hospitals are designed to meet certain energy performance criteria, seldom are the design and construction teams accountable to the long-term operating performance of the facility. Schneider Electric joined the design team to wrench out efficiencies early in the process and helped model operating scenarios against the baseline for investment justification. Technology was implemented to measure and verify the facility performance during the construction phase, then transitioned as operating tools for owner occupancy. The result was a facility that cost less to build, was functionally integrated yet simple to operate, and surpassed the owner’s long-term performance criteria.

CSE: What factors do you need to take into account regarding building automation systems (BAS) or building management systems (BMS)?

Schneider: Consider these factors:

  • Interface simplicity
  • Open communications
  • Ability to use functional information to drive efficiency
  • The capability of the team installing and servicing the system. 

BAS have become highly intelligent in recent years. However, with increased intelligence come cumbersome interfaces, complicated architectures, and overuse of data. Interfaces need to match the competency of the staff using it. Integration for the sake of integration does no one any good—data exchange needs to be well planned and correlated to functionality. This all starts in the design process. Of all the factors, the capability of the team designing, installing, commissioning, and servicing the BAS is most important. If you commission a poor design or installation, all you’ve done is guarantee poor performance.

CSE: What’s the one factor most commonly overlooked when working on hospitals’ and health care facilities’ electrical system projects?

Fike: Cost of ownership of the life safety and fire suppression systems. Often projects are provided based on lowest installation cost. Providing the ownership costs at the beginning of the project will ensure no surprises. Include preventive maintenance and testing contracts, unit costs for devices, panels, and expendables; fixed service rates; travel rates; and other costs to provide a better picture of the true cost of the project.

Schneider: The most commonly overlooked factor is connectivity of intelligent electrical distribution systems to other facility infrastructure systems. Meters, submeters, and intelligent trip units are too often not physically wired to communicate with power management or other building systems. This severely prohibits the operator’s capacity to make sound decisions and limits the ability to monitor power quality and dynamic consumption data, and streamline compliance reporting. Lack of preventive maintenance is another common concern throughout the health care industry. Most hospitals are reluctant to de-energize electrical equipment to perform periodic maintenance. Lack of exercise of equipment, such as circuit breakers and switches, can cause lubricants to harden over time. Conditions like this would cause mechanisms to bind and jeopardize the electrical integrity of the equipment. Hospitals should perform an assessment of the electrical distribution system and develop an action plan, along with contingencies, to implement a comprehensive preventive maintenance program or multi-year service plan to address the ongoing needs of each facility.

CSE: What unique requirements do the HVAC systems have, and what questions/issues have you helped resolve?

Schneider: In the typical U.S. hospital, nearly 72% of total energy consumed is accounted for by mechanical systems—and more than half is related to cooling and heating. Unfortunately, the health care regulatory environment dictates much of the innate inefficiencies we see in hospitals today, but we can do a better job as an industry to work around these requirements to design and operate more efficient facilities. Schneider Electric has developed a unique approach to control energy use in one of the highest consuming areas of a health care facility—the patient room. By integrating with clinical information technology, we understand which areas of the hospital are occupied and which are not, helping us better control the issue of redundant heating and cooling.

CSE: Fire/life safety systems in hospitals and health care facilities often are a mixture of complex systems. Describe a recent project in which you provided unique solutions.

Fike: We provided a full system upgrade from an obsolete horn/strobe system to a full voice emergency communication evacuation system. The system requires the existing system to remain on-line during multiple construction and switchover phases. The Fike Precise Computer Based Event Management System was able to monitor the legacy system, providing a single point of operator interface during the project. At the end of the project a simple software upgrade provides a full UL 864 9th Edition workstation when the system is completed. The precise system is capable of monitoring more than 40 manufacturers’ fire alarm systems, providing an upgrade path to new technology and simplified user interface to quickly determine location and action to be taken. Additionally, the system required networking several buildings on campus as well as remotely. The ability to monitor remote systems via an Internet protocol (IP) connection or direct connections on wire or fiber-optic allowed for flexibility to provide the connectivity based on existing infrastructure.

Schneider: Like many other infrastructure systems, fire alarm and life safety have dramatically improved the level of intelligence and interoperability with other building systems. Integrating these into building automation and security access control and video helps drive workflow efficiency and safety. Utilizing functional data from both the building automation and fire life safety system can help streamline compliance accreditation services delivery and reporting.

CSE: Describe an unusual challenge and solution for a recent hospital or health care facility project.

Schneider: A nationally ranked hospital partnered with Schneider Electric Services to design and implement an approach that would update, secure, and stabilize the electrical system and power supply in its renowned cancer center, an outpatient treatment facility. The entire project was to be performed “behind the scenes” and without any disruption to facility operations. Schneider Electric engineers developed a coordination plan to keep all processes and power supplies up and running during the course of the project. A temporary switchboard was designed to avoid any interruption of power to the cancer center. All major electrical equipment was then stripped down by qualified field service representatives and then rebuilt from the base up. The temporary switchboard enabled the power supply to bypass the equipment being rebuilt. The improvements to the electrical infrastructure enabled the facility to better support its advanced patient equipment and new equipment and technologies. In addition, the cancer center was able to reduce its maintenance costs, improve power reliability, safely power all major equipment, and overall achieve a better environment of patient care.