Healthcare worker and patient in room with clean air

A brief look at the impact of improving indoor air quality in healthcare settings.

Safe, acceptable indoor air quality is top of mind for organizations of all types and sizes. However, meeting strict air quality standards in the healthcare space is more than a nice-to-have—it’s a business-critical necessity. Improving indoor air quality enhances a facility’s occupant and patient satisfaction, facility ratings, staff and clinician morale, and even financial reimbursement. That said, much more goes into improving indoor air quality than simply bringing in more outside air. Building temperature, humidity, occupancy, and chemical exposure—inherent from building construction or a result of chemicals used within the space, such as disinfection aerosols—all influence a building’s air quality. That’s a lot of factors to consider. However, improving air quality within a clinical setting can be done with the right strategy and technology in place. 

What’s at stake for healthcare organizations failing to meet more stringent air quality standards?

Regulatory standards, ratings, and funding

The American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, or ASHRAE, publishes various regulatory standards and recommendations concerning a building’s air change rates, humidity requirements, and pressurization. For example, ASHRAE suggests a minimum air exchange rate per hour (ACH) of 2-4 for most commercial spaces. However, they indicate that an ACH rate between 6 and 20 must be realized for spaces with the highest risk of exposure to bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms. While improving indoor air quality is on the agenda for most healthcare facilities, failure to do so can have some severe consequences. 

First, Medicare and Medicaid account for over 55% of all hospital care. However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) refuse to offer reimbursement when certain health standards are not met, which can directly impact a healthcare facility’s finances. In addition, funding from the CMS is influenced by patient-satisfaction surveys, which consider patient comfort and indoor air quality. Therefore, hospitals are striving to reduce air and surface-borne risk as part of their efforts to maintain and improve patient comfort. 

Staff comfort, confidence, and health

Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, one important takeaway is that healthcare professionals—from doctors and nurses to housekeeping and administration—are at the frontlines of care in all forms. Without them, healthcare would crumble. In light of this, there’s now a new emphasis on staff comfort and burnout prevention. Although a complex problem to solve in its entirety, there are steps organizations can take to ensure staff happiness. And the first step to solving this issue is reducing exposure to certain microorganisms.  

Hospitals trust UVC disinfection because of its efficacy in destroying viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms. In addition, a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study found that healthy indoor air quality can significantly raise staff productivity. In a healthcare setting, this means less need for custodial staff and potentially higher morale among team members.

HVAC solutions alone are not good enough. 

We’ve covered at length why HVAC upgrades are not the complete answer to improving indoor air quality. However, this is especially true for hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities requiring measurable, more efficacious solutions to guarantee air quality standards are met. A quality HVAC system is a must, yet massive upgrades, new filters, higher capacity, etc., are not sustainable strategies to tackle the complexities of inactivating unwanted microorganisms, viruses and bacteria. 

Here’s a quick look at some of the ways HVAC misses the mark when it comes to disinfection:

  • HVAC isn’t inherently a disinfection tool. HVAC systems perform several tasks contributing to better indoor air quality, including filtration, cooling, heating, and dehumidifying. But it does not rid a space of bacteria. 
  • HVAC systems are measured by “air changes per hour,” or ACH. Most commercial buildings require an ACH of 2 to 4 as a minimum removal rate for particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOC), and CO2. 
  • For high-occupancy environments such as hospitals, where ventilation is also targeted at reducing exposure to certain microorganisms and viruses, ASHRAE recommends an ACH between 6 to 20—which most HVAC systems cannot meet without significant upgrades.
  • Because the primary function of an HVAC system is temperature control, air changes per hour can vary from space to space within the same building and over time within the same space, leading to inconsistent disinfection and airflow.
  • MERV filters in the HVAC system remove contaminants from the air before it is ventilated into a room but offer little in terms of in-room microbial disinfection. Moreover, require regular, costly maintenance and replacement. 

HVAC systems and filters are costly to operate, upgrade, and maintain, accounting for most of a building’s energy costs. 

Upper-room UVC: a small step with big results

Elevating indoor health can be complex. However, R-Zero’s connected ecosystem is a sustainable, simple way to reduce indoor exposure risk without heavy infrastructure investments. Harnessing the power of UV-C light brings assurance and peace of mind to healthcare environments with an intelligent approach to air and surface disinfection, such as Beam upper room UVGI disinfection might help to reduce COVID-19 transmission in buildings.

As a leader in intelligent, healthy spaces technology, R-Zero delivers always-on and on-demand UVC-powered disinfection solutions. Able to eliminate up to 99.99% of microorganisms in a matter of minutes, R-Zero technology is leveraged by some of the nation’s top healthcare organizations to lower indoor health and safety risks. If you’re ready to take the next steps towards improving your healthcare environment disinfection strategy, visit our healthcare solutions page to kick-start your journey to healthier spaces.

1Third-party testing of SARS-CoV-2, feline calicivirus, MRSA, and E. Coli on hard, non-porous surface in seven minutes, samples taken at eight feet.

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