The boom in outpatient facility construction shows no signs of slowing. But these projects are becoming increasingly complex as medical groups and hospital systems demand spaces that can keep up with their rapidly changing strategic and organizational requirements.

February 14, 2013

2. Be prepared to rethink the conventional wisdom about underfloor air systems in healthcare facilities.

 

Underfloor air distribution is one of the design innovations at the new Spectrum Health Medical Group’s ambulatory center, in Holland, Mich. The UFAD scheme reduces energy consumption and allows the spaces to be reconfigured without dramatic renovation costs. Photo: Justin Maconochie

 

How do you make a roomful of healthcare design and infection control experts utter a collective gasp? Simple. Just mention “healthcare” and “UFAD” in the same sentence.

That’s what happened when Corby presented underfloor air distribution for the new Spectrum Health facility to a group of healthcare professionals last fall. “For a lot of people, especially those who are involved with infection control, it scares them,” says Corby.

He insists that UFAD is safe for outpatient care facilities like the one in Holland, Mich. “Spectrum’s infection control experts checked it out and found no inherent issues from an infection control standpoint,” he says. “It’s actually healthier, because the air is coming to the occupants in its freshest state. You’re not mixing the stale air that’s rising through the ductwork.”

However, Alan Kranzo, Spectrum’s Director of Facility Planning and Operations, cautions that the technology may not be appropriate for every outpatient facility. “The Spectrum facility was an ambulatory patient visit environment, where they’re just doing patient exams,” he says. “We would never consider UFAD in an operating room, where procedures are being done.”

In pitching the idea of using UFAD to Spectrum management, Corby and his team analyzed the average cost and operational impact of recent renovations at the organization’s other facilities. “We showed them that, had these facilities had UFAD, they would have saved 30% on average of the cost of the renovation, because they would not have had to core through floors, shut down operations, and affect the surrounding areas,” he says.

In fact, underfloor air distribution (in combination with Spectrum’s modular facility plan) has enabled the organization to change out spaces much faster and at lower cost, without dramatically affecting daily operations.

The technology pencils out on the initial cost side, too. The entire Spectrum facility uses UFAD, at a first cost of $6-7/sf. But when the upfront savings on mechanical system components (less ductwork, smaller fans, etc.) is factored in, the investment is a wash, says Corby. On top of that, the project’s energy models show that UFAD will deliver anywhere from 20 to 30% savings in ongoing energy costs.

Corby expects to see more healthcare organizations give UFAD a closer look as they search for ways to create more flexible and adaptable outpatient spaces. “I think it’s revolutionary as it is related to healthcare,” says Corby, who has done four UFAD applications for healthcare clients.

 

         
 

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