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The Deadline Rapidly Approaches: Negative Air Pressure Rooms in Healthcare

By Craig Scully PE, LEED AP

April 5, 2022

 

 

Many things changed rapidly when the pandemic was in full swing, especially in hospitals and medical facilities. People were working to provide the best care that they could to patients and those suffering from COVID-19. Now that cases are declining (according to the CDC, the current 7-day moving average of daily new cases (30,040) decreased 16.6% compared with the previous 7-day moving average (36,010) as of March 16, 2022), restrictions are being lifted as the world is adjusting to its “new normal.”

 

 

 

One such regulation about to be lifted is the COVID-19 National/State Emergency Hospital Blanket Waiver: Conversion of Standard Patient Rooms to Negative Pressure Isolation Rooms (Indiana State Department of Health). Let’s start with what this is referring to – negative pressure rooms, also known as isolation rooms. These are rooms where the air pressure inside the room is lower than the air pressure outside of the room, stopping contaminated air or dangerous particles inside the room from flowing into the air outside. Non-contaminated air flows into the negative pressure room, while contaminated air is sucked out with mechanical systems. Filters clean the contaminated air before it is pumped out of the space. Negative pressure rooms help keep infectious illnesses away from other patients, staff, and visitors.

St Rita GME - Negative Pressure Rooms
St Rita GME - Negative Pressure Rooms
VA Clinic - Negative Pressure Rooms

These rooms became a necessity throughout the pandemic. The waiver stated that “due to the anticipated magnitude of patients presenting to hospitals due to concerns related to the COVID-19 viral infection, hospitals may have a need to add additional negative pressure isolation rooms in order to protect patients and staff within the facility as patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 undergo medical management and treatment.” In other words, more negative pressure rooms were needed because of the pandemic.

VA Clinic - Negative Pressure Rooms

So, what does the waiver do? It allows facilities to convert non-isolation rooms into isolation rooms during the declared National and State COVID-19 Emergency without meeting all the requirements outlined in the Facility Guidelines and not requiring the hospital to submit waiver requests or plan designs for these rooms. In laymen’s terms, the waiver made it easier for medical facilities to create negative pressure rooms without having to go through pre-approval, as long as they sent notice to the Indiana Department of Health (ISDH) and requested an inspection. The waiver states that “this emergency waiver is time limited to the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency. If a facility wishes to make the negative pressure rooms permanent, the room(s) must be submitted for plan review and designed to the FGI 2018 Edition requirements for negative pressure rooms.”

VA Clinic - Negative Pressure Rooms
VA Clinic - Negative Pressure Rooms
Van Wert Surgery and Inpatient Expansion - Negative Pressure Rooms

As end date of this waiver approaches, many medical facilities find themselves at a crossroads with their temporary negative pressure rooms. Should they convert these rooms back into regular patient rooms? This can be a semi-costly endeavor and boasts the question of preparedness for another pandemic situation. If negative pressure rooms are converted into regular pressure rooms, will facilities find themselves in another circumstance where they are rushing to convert the rooms back to negative pressure in the event of another pandemic? If medical facilities decide to leave the rooms as negative pressure rooms, what are the steps they would have to take to make them fully functional outside of the waiver, and what are the costs? What can they do to be prepared for the next pandemic? Regardless of their end choice, medical facilities are going to have to decide about negative pressure rooms that were converted under this waiver.

Van Wert Surgery and Inpatient Expansion - Negative Pressure Rooms

Have more questions about the COVID-19 National/State Emergency Hospital Blanket Waiver: Conversion of Standard Patient Rooms to Negative Pressure Isolation Rooms, negative pressure rooms in general, or healthcare-related design? We would be happy to answer them! Get in touch with Craig Scully to talk more about negative pressure rooms and the waiver, or Bill Ledger for questions about general healthcare design.

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