By Ric Letourneau, National Director of Operations – Environmental Services/Quality/Compliance
Finding the Perfect Temperature
Everyone’s idea of the perfect temperature is different. Some keep their homes at 72 degrees year-round while others, especially those living in colder climates, aren’t happy if it’s more than 68. Fortunately, due largely to new technology that can help control the temperature for the entire hospital, facility management directors can set the right temperature for patients, medical staff and visitors year-round and throughout the facility.
But, wait a minute. If that’s the case, why do so many people feel hospitals are too cold, needing a sweater even on the hottest days of summer? A good question – and those people aren’t wrong.
Fighting Bacterial with Temperature Controls
Bacteria thrive in warm environments, so hospitals combat this enemy in many places with cold temperatures, which help slow bacterial and viral growth. As our friends at Morrison Healthcare know, this is no different than safety practices in the food industry that rely on refrigeration to keep food from growing harmful bacteria.
Operating rooms are some of the coldest areas in a hospital, usually between 68 and 75 degrees with humidity between 30 and 60 percent, which keeps the risk of infection at a minimum. Other areas that must be colder than the rest of the building are the catheterization laboratories, where diagnostic imaging equipment is used to visualize the heart’s arteries, and endoscopy units, which houses cameras used to examine various parts of the body.
Keeping Caregivers Comfortable
Another reason for the cool temperatures is to help out the hospital staff. Nurses and other medical staffers are constantly moving, so cooler temperatures help ensure their comfort.
Air conditioning also helps to offset the heat produced by bright lights during surgery. While the average person is concerned about the patient getting too cold, their bodies can be controlled with warming pads. In a regular room, more blankets can be added.
Outside of these critical areas, nearly every healthcare facility in the country is now able to maintain a steady temperature, even throughout a sprawling facility with multiple buildings, because of recent advances in technology.
Using Technology to Automate Facility Temperature
Most large healthcare facilities employ a Building Management System where computers can automate the airflow within the facility. This system often includes cloud-based software which allows for central monitoring of the temperature and humidity.
While surgical rooms are regulated, the Facilities Management leader and their staff can control the airflow in a hospital lobby and other public spaces in the facility. Working closely with the hospital team, they work to get the “right” temperature setting. But even those areas are becoming easier to manage.
For example, the central lobby is often a large area with high ceilings. Many hospitals help control a steady temperature through the use of revolving doors and limit contaminants from the outside.
We can even control the temperature in these large spaces during special events where hundreds of people may gather in a hospital lobby or café. For example, if a hospital is holding a fund-raising event in its atrium and food is cooked at the event, changes can be made to lower the temperature and vents can eliminate any smell from the food.
Barriers to Regulating Facility Temperature
There are some situations where maintaining consistency can be difficult. Some of our biggest challenges come from older hospitals undergoing renovations – and that’s a lot of them.
Old facilities may have used packaged terminal air conditioners to control heating, cooling and ventilation without any duct work, making it more difficult to control the temperature. Working closely with the engineering design team, facilities professionals can minimize an impact on the temperature during and after construction.
Despite all of our advances, we realize there will always be people that don’t quite get as comfortable as we would like. Patient rooms have individual thermostats, which helps make each patient as comfortable as possible. But when two patients share a room, you may see one covered with blankets because they are too cold while the other person is wearing very little clothing because they are too hot.
Nurses will work with these patients to find a happy medium and do their best to make both comfortable. From our standpoint, we make certain the required air flow into these rooms doesn’t allow any contaminants to enter from adjacent areas.
While still a complex process, managing the temperature and humidity in all areas of the hospital today is easier to control than ever before. And that helps us provide patients with the kind of care they deserve.
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