Managing emergency power in mixed occupancy health care facilities

A growing trend within the health care industry is the use of mixed occupancies in a single building—such as medical offices, an ambulatory surgical center, and an emergency department.


RTM Engineering Consultants has experience in health care design, encompassing more than 500 projects across 20 different states. RTM takes into account factors, such as local codes and facility constraints, to provide cost-efficient engineering solutions that increase staff and patient satisfaction.

A growing trend within the health care industry is the use of mixed occupancies in a single building—such as medical offices, an ambulatory surgical center, and an emergency department.

RTM has started projects building local healthcare sites that include medical offices, an ambulatory surgical center and and emergency department, responding to a recent trend for this type of facility. Courtesy: RTMassociates.comThere has been a transition within the industry. It’s a shift away from large full-scale hospitals; instead, community based sites are adding on an emergency department and perhaps a surgical center. These micro-hospitals don’t have full hospital functionality, but they can provide immediate care more locally in the community, which caters to those who want access to more personal care where they live.

The challenge in developing the engineering strategy for these buildings is that each space has different emergency power requirements. The engineering team must ensure that the facility is equipped with adequate emergency protection, while minimizing excess energy usage.

RTM will finish another facility by November 2017. Drexel Town Square in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, features a 130,000-square-foot health care facility; the main section is a medical office building offering outpatient services, with an ambulatory surgical center (ASC) suite. In a different part of the building, the facility will open an urgent care center, which will evolve into an emergency department in the future.

The medical office building and the ambulatory surgical center are classified as a B occupancy, generally used for medical offices or outpatient clinics. The urgent care center or emergency department, however has an I-2 occupancy classification, which is used for medical, surgical, psychiatric, nursing, or custodial care on a 24-hour basis for more than five people who aren’t capable of self-preservation. Because of these occupancy changes and each facility’s requirements, three separate emergency systems needed to be developed, powered by a single generator, to comply with the code.

Having an ambulatory surgical center and a medical office reside in the same building is pretty typical. The issue that needs to be addressed is that an ASC needs to be designed similar to a full-scale hospital. An office building isn’t required to have an emergency power system supplied by a generator, but an ASC is. And an ambulatory surgical center and an emergency department have similar emergency power requirements—with three branches of power for life safety, critical power, and equipment. But since they reside in different occupancies, they must have separate systems.

Though the medical office building isn’t obligated to have the three branches of power, only life safety capabilities (fire alarms, emergency lighting, etc.), RTM designed an optional standby power system using the on-site generator. This system manages power loads the facility prioritizes in an emergency, such as running the call center to contact patients.

This thorough attention to detail has long-term benefits for clients, resulting in critical operational cost and energy savings that can be applied to methods for increasing patient care.

A standard approach to this project would have ended with eight transfer switches, but following the code, four transfer switches were able to be eliminated to have only a total of four. This is equipment that costs a substantial amount of money, and they cut it in half. 

This article originally appeared on RTM Engineering Consultants is a content partner of CFE Media. 

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