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| Michael D. Vinick, ASCS, CVI, President - Duct & Vent Cleaning of America, Inc. Past President - NADCA
On November 18, 2019, The Seattle Times reported that “Seattle Children's chief executive disclosed Monday that 14 patients have been sickened by Aspergillus mold since 2001 — six of whom died — blaming this hospital for failing to recognize a connection between the infections and the air-handling units serving its operating rooms”.
Healthcare in America is in crisis and that does not only mean the costs and access to treatment. The physical plants of the healthcare facilities that we regularly work in have been taxed to the maximum. Healthcare facilities continue to fail to plan and provide preventative maintenance measures, all in the name of saving money. Air duct cleaning is one of the costs associated with maintaining a healthcare facility that should not be “kicked down the road”. The possible negative implications are life and death when left to chance.
The largest expense in maintaining any property that I can identify is the energy consumption and maintenance of the equipment. You would think it would be a rational determination to maintain the equipment that costs millions of dollars to install. Maintaining the equipment does not only mean changing filters and making sure the blower is working. Unfortunately, we do not find good maintenance measures that would help to save energy, promote health and improve the environment. We are too often called into a situation when it has become a crisis.
Here are a few real-life examples of crisis management we have been asked to solve when we received a call from a hospital:
We received a phone call from a mechanical contractor working at a hospital on a renovation project of the operating rooms (OR’s). The project called for them to save the existing ductwork because replacing it would have cost too much money and disruption of the structure. When the mechanical contractor opened the ductwork to replace non-working broken dampers, they found filthy ductwork that was servicing the OR’s. Duct cleaning had never been performed on the ductwork servicing the OR’s. The new Air Handling Units (AHU’s) more efficient blowers would have dislodged the debris and entered the occupied space. People have had surgeries day in and day out for years not knowing what lurks just a few feet above the operating table. We cleaned the ductwork prior to the contractor commissioning the new energy-efficient AHU’s. If we had not cleaned the ductwork, not only would the brand-new AHU’s be contaminated, but the patient exposure would have been increased from the exposure that had already taken place in that facility.
The drain pan associated with one of their AHU’s is holding water in one area and most of the pan is rusted. We find that the drain pan is not only rusted but also rotted out in parts of the pan. During installation a long time ago, the pan may not have been installed level. If it was installed level the vibration from the AHU over time caused the pan to change position. In this case, we were able to save the pan and extend the life of the pan indefinitely. We also saved the hospital a lot of money by avoiding having to pull the entire AHU, because the drain pan was not completely rusted out. We prepared the pan by removing the rust, then used a primer and a special self-leveling epoxy coating to level the pan with the coil in place because there was room for the epoxy to be applied under the coil. The AHU was able to resume normal function.
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