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Getting the "Full View": 4 Critical Building Automation System Considerations for Healthcare Executives

By Damian Skelton, Area Vice President, Medxcel Facilities Management

Damian Skelton, Area Vice President, Medxcel Facilities Management

The building automation system (BAS) is the primary backbone for energy savings in a hospital. From controlling every aspect of the HVAC system (chillers, boilers, air handling units, variable air volume boxes, and more), the benefits from a well programmed BAS ultimately ensure the HVAC systems' operational performance which can reduce energy costs and keep patients, visitors, and staff comfortable.

Unfortunately, this system is least understood and yet one of the most expensive systems in a hospital. And as technology continues to advance, we are seeing more systems become integrated into the BAS. This includes systems such as fire alarm, power monitoring, lighting control, and security.

One of the many issues in healthcare is that many executives are directing engineers to make multi-million dollar decisions on which manufacturer’s BAS to use in their hospitals without fully understanding that these decisions will have long-term impacts and ramifications on almost every aspect of facility operations and maintenance. The BAS controls almost all the hospital’s critical utility systems; with over 50 percent of the facility manager’s budget invested in energy, the BAS should be one of the engineer’s primary focuses. Making a decision based on second-hand experience, manufacture sales pitches or un-vetted third-party recommendations is dangerous. To ensure this decision is not taken lightly, a system that works best for your facility is selected; below we have highlighted four critical considerations when selecting a BAS.

4 Critical Considerations:

1. Needs Assessment

Determining the nuances of the current HVAC system in your facility and identifying the needs at the local site are the first steps in determining what BAS will be most beneficial for your healthcare organization. One way to achieve this is to make a comprehensive inventory of the existing system. The best way to start is, by asking your teams to answer a series of basic questions about the current BAS in place: What works? How well does it work? What flat out doesn’t work? What is still being supported? What parts of the system will work with an upgraded system? What will not work with an upgraded system?

After you have completed that step, speak directly with BAS users within your facility who represent different perspectives (e.g. HVAC operators, field technicians, etc.). Gaining insights from these critical users will help to determine what attributes they consider necessary for the BAS system. Once all this information is collected, compile it with the inventory list–the data from these activities will help you create a prioritized plan.

2. Regulatory Compliance

Compliance remains the crucial component of every decision a healthcare facility makes, just the same, the BAS you use must maintain compliance with all regulatory requirements. Key requirements are temperature, humidity, space pressures, and air changes. A well-designed BAS can facilitate management of compliance issues by issuing immediate alerts, with informative graphics and dashboards displaying critical environmental conditions such as occupied/unoccupied mode, along with the key requirements listed above (temperature, humidity, space pressures, and air changes). It also ensures that all these elements are trended and documented.

"The end goal for a well-designed BAS is a detailed and customized set of future-proof specifications for the healthcare facility"

When properly displayed and trended, troubleshooting is simplified for critical environments with high occupancy. The BAS should also ensure accountability within your facility by alerting personnel when temperature, humidity or pressure readings are outside of the acceptable ranges. This helps the facilities staff to quickly identify issues and bring the building back into compliance.

3. Ease of Use

Nothing slows a facilities department down like a clunky system that is not easy to use, ultimately impacting the efficiency of work and the overall patient experience. HVAC and facility technicians already have multiple priorities when maintaining a hospital. By ensuring a user-friendly interface with dashboards, easy-to-read graphics, and logical drill-down screens, the time to monitor, evaluate, adjust, and troubleshoot daily operations will be minimized and staff can depend on the BAS to help them resolve issues quickly.

Important factors such as detailed, specific control drawings and sequences of operations must be considered during the early stages of the design process of a BAS. The end goal is a detailed and customized set of future-proof specifications for the facility.

4. Energy Savings

Healthcare executives across the nation are feeling the pressure to reduce energy usage. Building automation systems are essential for generating energy savings throughout a facility and can be used to implement programing and monitor equipment to ensure energy is not being wasted. Implementing occupied and unoccupied schedules for areas like offices or classrooms is an economical way to save energy.

In addition to implementing control sequences, the BAS is a valuable tool for monitoring systems and equipment. For example, chillers have the potential to be huge energy wasters. Using the BAS trending functions can help facility managers quickly spot problems like frequent starts and stops. A properly designed BAS can also provide the facility manager with daily electric and natural gas consumption trending that supports best practice energy saving strategies.

To say the least, the selection of BAS has major impacts on patient experience and financial standing, as well as compliance and energy usage factors within a healthcare organization. Most healthcare facilities are not static buildings that remain unchanged from the day they were built. It is important to have a carefully crafted plan to ensure the key factors of the system are considered. Most importantly, the reward of having comfortable patients and staff, a streamlined maintenance program, and energy savings will far outweigh the grueling process of finding the right BAS.