Discussing the Effects of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) on Occupant Health in Hospitals

HAWA's President Jeff Ortman
Jeff Ortman, PE

HAWA attended a seminar last month discussing the effects of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) on occupant health in hospitals. The event was hosted by our friends at Environmental Comfort and held at The Columbus Country Club, and the seminar was presented by Dr. Stephanie Taylor, a pediatric oncology MD from Harvard Medical School. After witnessing patients being harmed during their hospital stays by new infections, Dr. Taylor was determined to better understand the role of the hospital-built environment in patient outcomes and so returned to school to get her master’s degree in Architecture and Engineering.

Dr. Taylor now works to understand how architectural design and indoor air management affect the health of all building occupants, including patients in hospitals, employees in office buildings, students in residential schools, and even the one-celled microbes living in indoor communities, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Her goal is to identify building characteristics and indoor air parameters that support occupant health, productivity and learning.

HAWA engineers sit at a table in front of a screen with a presentation

Dr. Taylor shared, “We spend the majority of our time indoors, yet there is little information relating human physiology to indoor spaces. Climbing rates of chronic diseases, like diabetes and autoimmune disorders, as well as acute infections with antibiotic-resistant pathogens require that we search for new approaches to maintain our health. New tools and research are yielding startling connections between the indoor environment and human health, learning and productivity, opening the door to greater understanding of the healing potential of the built environment”.  

Some key points from this presentation:

  1. To reduce patient suffering and hospital revenue loss from healthcare-associated infections, hospital clinicians primarily focus on guiding human behavior to prevent the transmission of pathogenic microbes. These guidelines include protocols for hand hygiene, checklists for procedures and restrictions on antibiotic dosing. Meanwhile, building designers and managers follow ASHRAE and FGI mandates for Environment of Care best practices.
  2. New studies resulting from the collaboration of clinicians, microbiologists and engineers are now available. Working together to align patient outcomes with the hospital built-environment, this collaborative approach has collected data that clarifies the importance of indoor air management as an effective tool in decreasing transmission of pathogens, enhancing pre-existing surface hygiene strategies and conserving energy use. 
  3. These same studies show that the current focus on hand hygiene and disinfecting surfaces to decrease transmission of infections will never be adequate without considering the added dimension of indoor air management.
  4. IAQ can optimize patient outcomes, improve employee health and productivity, and benefit hospital budgets.

The main takeaway from this informative presentation was that proper humidification in healthcare facilities, as well as most indoor environments, should be considered as part of the design strategy. Relative humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent are beneficial for

  • Reducing healthcare-acquired infections
  • Patient recovery
  • Improving hydration (cognitive skills)
  • Increased work performance

We would be happy to discuss how humidity and Indoor Air Quality can be incorporated into the design strategy of your next project, so let’s get a conversation started.

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