Medical gas systems serve healthcare facilities by providing gases that are life-sustaining (oxygen), critical-use (medical air), or suction (vacuum) for patients. These systems are often centrally located and away from patients. If medical air compressors were in high traffic areas, they would bring noise generating equipment closer to patients, be more expensive to maintain, and bring spark equipment closer to patients utilizing oxygen. The general useful life of medical gas source equipment varies from anywhere between 10-20 years (or more), however many hospitals use these systems past their “use-by” date because of a lack of funds to replace them, or the perceived difficulty of full replacement while keeping the facility operational.

According to a recent study by Hospital Review, the average age of hospital assets like equipment or buildings generally reaches 22.5 years. This is the highest average age since 1945. That means many of the most life-critical systems in a facility – such as medical gas systems – desperately need to be upgraded and repaired. The threat of equipment failure and its liability looms over facility managers. Many building owners we’ve talked to share these concerns, as any down time for these assets is problematic for the hospital. When it comes to this kind of challenge, Henderson Engineers and Henderson Building Solutions take a holistic approach to creating unique solutions. Replacing critical equipment often involves several considerations, including down time, useful life, serviceability, and impact on supporting systems.

Down Time

The biggest impact of medical gas system down time in healthcare is that these gases are in use or potentially necessary at all times. Any medical gas source equipment replacement needs to minimize medical gas shut down times for the safety and care of patients.

Useful Life

Equipment lifespan is another consideration that has multiple facets. While the equipment warranty is important, there are other things like hospital growth that need to be considered. Future expansion plans may make the purchase of a bulk oxygen tank a bad investment. If a facility plans on growing 50 percent in a few years, leasing the bulk tank so that it can be upgraded during expansion may make more sense.

Serviceability 

The serviceability of equipment directly impacts operational costs. More equipment equates to more places where something can go wrong and ultimately creates a greater potential for maintenance issues. While redundancy is necessary, taking it too far can lead to headaches.

Impact on Other Systems

Medical gas systems often have specific power and HVAC requirements. Source equipment requires proper ventilation and often additional cooling. At the same time, the critical operation of medical air compressors and medical vacuum pumps require emergency back-up power.

On a recent project with Medical City Dallas, we encountered three separate buildings, each with its own medical air compressor and medical vacuum pump that needed to be replaced:

  • Building one had the medical air compressor and medical vacuum pump close to the fire command center and the facilities office. The compressors were so loud that ear protection was required to enter the room, and the drone of the machines could be heard all the way down the hallway – affecting the working space for these teams.
  • Building two had the medical air compressor and medical vacuum pump in a mechanical room that had no additional capacity, even though vertical expansion would soon increase the demand of the space.
  • Building three had their source equipment in a central utility plant that was not fully utilized, but was not in close proximity to the other buildings.

The initial scope was to replace, one-for-one, each piece of source equipment and interconnect each building for redundancy. However, after conducting a facility condition assessment and evaluating potential options we, together with the owner, determined an even better solution. Instead of simply replacing equipment like-for-like, the team agreed to utilize the spare space in Building three and create a new central plant to serve all three buildings. Relocating the medical gas service in Building one eliminated the noise issues, while Building two gained much needed space to support the tower expansion. Employing larger equipment in a central location also improved redundancy and reliability. In order to make the most of the owner’s investment, the new equipment was sized to account for additional load in the future.

Because the medical gas system in this hospital is critical-use, our team coordinated with the medical gas inspector and verifier to minimize shut down times. Once the new medical air and medical vacuum system were complete, the piping connecting to the other buildings was installed in a phased manner. This allowed the old equipment to be taken offline one at a time minimizing and controlling disruptions to hospital operations. By the end of the project the owner was overjoyed with their new “first class, state of the art systems”.

When it comes to medical gas systems improvement, it is important to understand how the system interacts with the patient experience. With this holistic understanding, the implications of downtime, life span, serviceability, and supporting systems can be managed to help owners breathe easy. If your medical gas system is “getting up there” in age, contact us for a facility condition assessment. Our experts are ready to help.

 



About the Author

Christoph Lohr


Plumbing Technical Leader
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Christoph is a dedicated, well-organized plumbing engineer and plumbing technical leader who is very passionate about medical gas. He has been instrumental in leading some complex healthcare projects across the country. As an ASSE 6020 Medical Gas Inspector, he’s highly experienced in designing HVAC, medical gas, plumbing & piping, fire & life safety, and hydronic piping systems. He is a natural born leader – particularly ambitious and disciplined. Clients enjoy working with him because he always follows through on his commitments and is a solutions expert.