Taking advantage of technology to save energy, promote patient safety, and deliver occupant comfort
by Jon Inman
There’s a reason that the 450,000-square-foot El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, California, has been called “the most technologically advanced hospital” in the country. The facility, which opened last fall, features robotic surgery suites, autonomous supply carts, biometric palm scanning for patient registration, and a Star Trek-like voice-activated communications system that connects staff with each other individually.
There are also some less visible innovative features. If you could peek into the hospital’s ceilings and walls, you would see an energy-saving HVAC system that will soon be integrated with the hospital’s electronic patient system-technology many hospitals have dreamed about, but no other hospital has yet accomplished.
Taken together, this integrated system will push the edge of what’s possible in patient comfort, energy savings, and electronic patient systems, freeing up staff to spend more time on patient care and less on administrative and operational duties. It’s a national model for tomorrow’s energy-saving, healthy, and efficient hospital.
Working with El Camino Hospital and KMD Architects from the beginning, our engineering team chose an energy-saving tracking variable air volume (VAV) HVAC system that allows modulation of supply and return air volumes in different spaces or zones. The building management system sequences the system up or down to reduce energy consumption during the occupied mode and has the capability of setting individual rooms to a motion-sensed or pre-scheduled “unoccupied” setting for further energy reduction. In either mode, patient safety and infection control are a priority. By employing the tracking system, both supply outlets and return inlets are monitored to maintain minimum air change rates and pressure relationships with other rooms and areas in the hospital.
Future plans for the hospital call for connecting the HVAC system, with its ability to change settings from “occupied” to “unoccupied” with the patient registration system, allowing the HVAC system to power up in an individual room when a patient is registered and admitted or power down when a patient is discharged.
Outside of the patient rooms, hospital staff that schedule surgical procedures can pre-set each operating room to turn up the HVAC system to occupied mode and turn down the HVAC system when the procedure is complete. Rooms can also be scheduled to run at warmer or cooler temperatures based on procedural needs (for example, neonatal surgeries are often done at warmer temperatures) or the medical staff’s preference. If an event is unscheduled, each room has multiple occupancy sensors (voice and motion) to turn up the room automatically. When no activity is sensed in the room for a duration of time, the room ramps back down to the unoccupied mode.
Other areas such as diagnostic imaging rooms, exam rooms, and conference rooms have also been designed with occupancy control of the HVAC system. Taking advantage of technology allows the building to work for the occupants while saving energy, promoting patient safety, and delivering occupant comfort.
Another feature of the VAV system at El Camino Hospital includes the handling air units. The units are arranged with dual air tunnels allowing maintenance staff to shut down one side of the air handler while allowing the other side to continue in operation, thereby eliminating downtime. Additionally, the air handlers utilize a fan array which includes multiple, variable-speed, direct-drive fans engineered to reduce energy and noise. These allow easier maintenance and built-in redundancy by allowing each motor and fan combination to operate independently in case one or more stop working.
These systems, when installed, can save up to 35% of the energy of traditional, constant volume HVAC systems. In addition, payback on a tracking VAV system is often only a few years, a good investment given that many HVAC systems must last for decades and hospital buildings are built for half a century or more. And, since hospitals are energy-intensive and operate 24/7, energy costs tend to add up.
What’s more, the HVAC system will soon be connected to the patient electronic system, which is installed and integrated with the 42 flat-screen TVs installed in the hospital’s patient rooms. This system, which includes an infection-resistant full keyboard and touchpad, will soon allow patients to order food, access the internet, and change the temperature settings for their rooms by themselves. Staff will also be able to access medical records-including visual data such as MRIs-right at the patient’s bedside, when and where the data is needed.
Many hospitals are looking to sustainable features and green building techniques to save money and create healthier hospitals. El Camino Hospital is going one step further, integrating energy-efficient systems with other high-tech electronic systems to save energy and money, while still improving the patient experience and staff efficiency.