Enhancing Health-Care Safety, Efficiencies

<p>At the VA Palo Alto (Calif.) Health Care System campus and John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Intrepid Electronic Systems phased out the existing central system, and phased in new technology while keeping the fire alarm system operational.</p>Inspection & Code Compliance

Coordinating inspections and system design reviews can be time-consuming, but necessary. “It’s a huge challenge, especially in the state of California,” confirms Brinkman. “There were three different State of California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) inspectors involved with John Muir, and it took more than 60 days just to get our drawings through the OSHPD plan check process.”

Brinkman had to coordinate closely with his own staff to be sure they were available for every inspection, even though the fire alarm was just one small part of the hospital’s building systems.

When inspectors from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) came through, Intrepid’s process of barcoding every device at the VA really helped the inspection process, says Veitch. “Utilizing inspection reports software, JCAHO reviewers were then able to ascertain when each device was last scanned and inspected.”

Offering some perspective, Brinkman points out that one-third of the manpower required for a new hospital is engineering, and the review process involved is truly incredible. As such, the blueprints are constantly being worked on all the way through the project, which requires a significant time investment.

In terms of proactively preparing for such realities, Brinkman advises building system suppliers to become NICET-certified (National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies) electricians. Through the certification process, electricians learn the building and fire codes and by the time the top certification rank, Level IV, is achieved, his or her code knowledge is typically equivalent to that of a fire protection engineer.

In addition, Brinkman recommends becoming active in associations, such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the Automatic Fire Alarm Association (AFAA), which can be great resources of information on code and design issues coming up in health-care projects.

Another important aspect of effective fire protection installations is commissi
oning. Although currently not mandated, NFPA 3: Recommended Practice on Commissioning and Integrated Testing of Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems code prioritizes it as a best practice.

“Commissioning building systems typically involves testing 10% of the components, but with fire protection systems, that’s unacceptable and doesn’t really serve the owner well. It has to be 100%,” explains David L. Boswell, SET, regional director, Hughes Associates, Lafayette, Colo. The firm served as the third-party commissioning agent for the VA’s fire protection upgrade.

“We followed the project through from design to acceptance, and with no financial stake in the project, we were able to provide an objective analysis,” he adds.

Training End User Is Final Piece

Yet another piece of the puzzle is training the end user to operate the system. A big believer in education, Brinkman’s firm typically gives as much training as required, particularly in the first year, which includes system testing.

 “The worst time to figure out how to use something is during an emergency,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many times these systems go off and the user doesn’t know how to silence the alarms.”

With the VA installation, for instance, Intrepid spent more than 200 hours working with the hospital staff to fully understand the system operation. These “field factory training classes,” plus the issuance of training certificates to participants were actually required by the VA. Furthermore, Intrepid had to train the VA Police Department, which necessitated six different training classes to cover the department’s various shifts supporting its 24/7 operations.

“Even now, we’re doing a refresher training course for another week to get up-to-date on some updates to the system,” says Veitch. “As the first responders, [in nonemergency situations], my facility engineering staff has to be able to make minor repairs, so the training has really helped.”

Beth Welch is Public Relations Manager for Honeywell Fire Systems. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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