What images come to mind when you hear the words ‘sterile environment’? Imagine the stale, white walls associated with hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities for a moment. These environments have become synonymous not only with health, but cleanliness due to their color.

The use of the color white in healthcare facility designs is for a number of reasons. White helps visually-impaired patients achieve maximum contrast, as well as, providing contrast for color-coded wayfinding lines. The color white has associations with purity and sterility, easily revealing dirt and grime.

The sensitive nature of the work performed within medical disciplines requires an exemplary level of sanitation. However, as patients we are not privy to the mechanical functions of a hospital, and to be honest we probably never consider them when in a lowered state of health. Yet, the underlying microscopic dangers in healthcare facilities have become of great concern to companies like Green Air EnvironmentalTM. Green Air is an expert in HVAC maintenance and Indoor Air Quality, having award-winning experience combating microbial pollutants to indoor environments.

Green Air is recipient of the 2016 Business Partner of the Year by the Georgia Society of Healthcare Engineers, for its support, hard work, and dedication to enhancing the indoor air quality and HVAC systems for hospitals in the state of Georgia. Its sustainable process in hospitals allow units to have greater air exchanges, sterile air, and improved heat transfer.

Green Air’s sustainable process for HVAC maintenance places it on a short-list of organizations combating airborne illness in healthcare facilities. Case in point, Monitoring Management [MonMan], a facilities maintenance organization that focuses on building operations efficiency.

MonMan scheduled a sampling during a downtime in a sprawling healthcare complex to get a better idea of lurking dangers. The hospital examined housed a physical therapy wing, operating rooms for brain surgery, and maternity ward. The survey sampling was conducted on an AHU servicing in an OR [Operating Room] utilized to perform back surgeries, appendicitis’, and heart surgeries.

Healthcare Facility Pollutants

Healthcare, Hospital, Green Building, Green Air Environmental, HVAC, Indoor Air Quality, Stretcher, Gurney, Surgery, Operating Room, Emergency Room“Out of 10 sample points, every single one showed microbial contamination of some type. Every sample point was contaminated with either bacteria, mold, or both.” – Ryan Hulland, VP of MonMan

Hulland outlined MonMan’s findings in a ‘Top 5 Bacteria Found Inside the Hospital HVAC System Serving an Operating Room’. Let’s take a look at what they discovered. (via Medical-Dictionary.com)

  1. Alcaligenes faecalis
    A species normally found in the human intestine. It has been associated with hospital-acquired septicemia and urinary tract infections.
  2. Leifsonia aquaticum
    A small, fastidious, Gram-positive, coryneform bacterium that causes ratoon stunting disease, a major worldwide disease of sugarcane.
  3. Pseudomonas oryzihabitans
    A gram-negative rod that can cause healthcare–related infections, esp. in catheterized, immunosuppressed, or critically ill patients.This includes patients that have recently undergone surgery and also those affected by diseases such as AIDS, leukemia, and other illnesses that have a detrimental effect on the immune system.
  4. Methylobacterium mesophilicum
    Healthcare-associated infection, including infections in immunocompromised hosts. The ability of Methylobacterium species to form biofilms and to develop resistance to high temperatures, drying, and disinfecting agents may explain the colonization of Methylobacterium in the hospital environment in, e.g., endoscopes.
  5. Pseudomonas putida
    A very common bug that lives in soil and freshwater environments all over the world where it moves about by way of one or more flagella close to the surface. It plays a very important role in the decomposition that drives the carbon cycle. Rarely, it attacks the skin and soft tissues, often of someone who is already ill with such ailments as pneumonia or tonsillitis.

Healthcare, Hospital, Green Building, Green Air Environmental, HVAC, Indoor Air Quality, Receptionist, Desk, Waiting areaHealthcare Facility Diagnosis

After reading the diagnosis on a few of these bacteria, it’s evident that hospitals and healthcare facilities are breeding grounds for bacteria. When patients seek treatment at these institutions, they bring a host of airborne microbes. Yet, these pathogens threaten not only patient safety, but the quality of life for healthcare staff.

Hospitals require elaborate duct-work to meet the needs of different wings. For instance, Intensive Care Unit, Pediatric Ward, Geriatric Ward, Maternity Ward, etc. Yet, regardless of their location any of the aforementioned bacteria can develop in an AHU.

Most of the bacteria listed above pose their greatest threat to immunocompromised patients. In restating that fact, which patients do you think are most at-risk to health complications from these bacteria?

Patient Recovery/Treatment in Healthcare Facilities

Studies have shown that,

Older adults have greater vulnerability to acute stress than younger individuals due to age-related diminution of physiologic reserves. Their vulnerability is compounded by the prevalence of chronic disease (eg, hypertension, kidney disease, and heart failure) in older adults.

Healthcare, Green Air, Green Building, HVAC, Indoor Air Quality

Data from the 2014 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project further supported that,

Among adults, lengths of stay were longer as patient age increased, with adults aged 65 years and older having the longest average length of stay (5.2 days). Average cost per stay was lowest for infants ($5,000) and highest for adults aged 45–84 years ($12,900 to $13,000)

Elderly patients appear greatest at-risk to bacteria, but the truth is that all patients AND staff are at-risk. To elaborate, although as children we undergo our greatest physiologic changes, our developing bodies are just as susceptible to illness. Pediatric wards are occupied by children with everything from ear infections to reashes, making them susceptible to airborne bacteria found in MonMan’s sampling. Have you ever heard a colleague, family member or friend say they’d gotten sick from their children?

Healthcare, Hospital, Green Building, Green Air Environmental, HVAC, Indoor Air Quality, Wheelchair, Patient Care, GeronotologyLikewise, if children are susceptible to these dangers then certainly mothers and newborns in maternity wards are at-risk. Patients in trauma units or quarantined areas are doubly at-risk as their bodies are in an extremely decreased state of vitality. So, despite what data has shown concerning frequency and length of hospital stay by age, all patients are in danger if an HVAC unit is compromised.

So, how big is the threat of airborne bacteria circulating in your healthcare facility?

By enlisting professionals like Green Air who have developed sustainable AHU and HVAC Coil Cleaning Maintenance Program developed for Healthcare Facilities. It uses a chemical-free process to sterilize and restore HVAC equipment efficiency and capacity. Green Air’s sustainable service is used in more than 70 hospitals across the southeast.