Protecting critical healthcare infrastructure

COVID has heightened awareness around the need to protect critical healthcare infrastructure which is worth billions of dollars in Australia. Poorly maintained equipment will affect the bottom line and most importantly doctor and patient safety, particularly in high risk environments such as ICU. Reactive, unplanned repairs (breakdowns) are the outcome of poorly protected or maintained equipment. Budget and asset management of equipment is integral to the performance of all healthcare facilities with fire prevention and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) two of the most important considerations.

FIRE and HVAC considerations
Due to budget restraints, cost cutting on the fire protection side of equipment generally occurs. Instances have been found whereby clients have installed a Novec 1280 fire extinguisher in lieu of a Novec 1230 agent gaseous suppression system. These fire extinguishers are not practical unless protecting a very small area. When an extinguisher of this type is discharged in a larger area it will have little impact on a fire event. The installation of a pre-action sprinkler system is a good way to remove risk of false activation in a sprinkler protected building. Fire protection technologies that should be considered include Novec 1230, ultra hi-pressure water-mist systems, CLSS and other remote monitoring fire systems.

In a hospital or clinic where patients and doctors are interacting in high stress environments, it is critical that HVAC equipment operates efficiently and reliably to deliver high-quality conditions including clean air at the correct temperature and humidity. Assets like chillers and computer room air conditioners are also directly linked to safe and reliable operation of high value medical assets like modality MRI equipment. It is imperative that air conditioning equipment supporting MRI control rooms and multi-million-dollar MRI’s are maintained to the highest level with proactive repairs and upgrading of machines given priority.

Failure to allow for specifically required maintenance or strategically budgeting to upgrade obsolete HVAC assets will directly affect patient and doctor comfort and in some cases result in the closing of treatment rooms or other critical areas.

HVAC equipment in the medical sector operates across multiple applications and at varying loads and temperatures. A stable 22 degrees is generally considered ideal for patient and doctor comfort and six degrees for chilled water supplied to MRI machines.

Minimising mistakes
When budgeting to purchase critical equipment, it is common for owners to only budget for the cost of the equipment and not take into account the protection and ongoing reliability of equipment through proactive repairs and maintenance. Cutting corners through reactive maintenance and repairs will adversely affect total asset lifecycle of equipment as well as ongoing reliability and operational efficiency. Any healthcare facility owner focused on cost reduction strategies while excluding a strategic and data driven approach to asset management is potentially creating operational, commercial and safety risks. A whole of life asset management approach is critical for both fire and HVAC assets.

Important factors to consider
Adequately train staff working in healthcare facilities on what to do in an emergency/fire. If staff do not understand how the fire protection systems operate, they can hinder performance. VESDA fire detection systems are some of the most effective in protecting lives. Selecting the best possible special hazards system is also critical as it protects the property. Selecting the correct system could be the difference between a small repair cost post fire event and a complete replacement. Consult with an insurer prior to selecting the best special hazard system.

Ensuring all baseline data is passed on from the installation contractor to the maintenance provider is critical to ensure these systems are tested and maintained correctly. Baseline data is the benchmark for fire protection companies and barometer for ensuring systems function as per their intended design.

Medical buildings must be made safer, more comfortable plus operate reliably and cost effectively through the application of focused asset maintenance and lifecycle management protocols.

Managing budget expectations
Healthcare equipment varies depending on the type of system selected, size and use and size of the room equipment is in. A standard MRI room in a sprinkler protected building with a gaseous suppression system such as a Novec 1230 would cost upwards of $85,000, and ongoing maintenance is approximately $10,000 – $12,000 per annum. However, the same room protected by a pre-action system would cost less than $30,000 with ongoing maintenance approximately $750 per annum.

Strategic budget planning that accounts for asset lifecycle, breakdown history and overall cost of ownership will reduce risk overall, mitigate the chances of unforeseen reactive breakdowns and customer discomfort in addition to positively affecting the bottom line.

Fire case study – University of NSW Prince of Wales Hospital facility
The University of NSW Prince of Wales Hospital facility recently undertook a refurbishment and is now home to the new 3T Prisma MRI system. This facility provides researchers with state-of-the-art MR imaging capabilities and collaboration between leading academic, research and health care institutions.

An analogue addressable fire detection system was installed with a double interlock pre-action sprinkler system for the MRI suites. Copper sprinkler heads were utilised in the machine room to not affect radiation emitted from the MRI scanner. Led was used to line the room to ensure the sealing of any penetration. The systems used combine all the benefits of a standard sprinkler system with the added protection against accidental water damage. The pre-action was coupled with a VESDA smoke detection system – providing the earliest possible warning of an impending fire hazard.

Contributors: Robert Westerhout, National Compliance Manager; Matthew Read, Client Relationship Manager; Peter Souflias, National Engineering Manager