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Washington County Health System
  Behind the scenes at the new medical center

Robinwood Construction Update Newsletter


“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” said the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulled the curtain away, revealing the machines that powered the mysterious Oz.

Washington County Hospital’s varied network of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems makes the Wizard’s machines look elementary. With thirty-four air handlers, 100 small commercial air conditioning units, and HVAC technologies spanning three decades, keeping patients and staff comfortable requires knowledge ranging from screwdrivers to software.

“It takes a lot of manpower to make the mixture of technologies function,” said Loren Christophel, facilities supervisor. “There’s a lot of work behind the scenes to keep a patient comfortable.”  In the current hospital, which dates back to 1934, temperatures for 90% of the patient rooms are controlled manually. Although this gives patients and nurses control of the room temperature, it can create wear and tear on the HVAC system. As in your home, heating and air conditioning run more efficiently when maintained at a setpoint temperature dictated by the outside weather. And, when something goes wrong with the thermostat in the “manually controlled” rooms, someone from the hospital’s facilities department must make a personal appearance.

Facilities executive Randy Sharshan and Roger Taylor, HVAC control technician, know how to keep air flowing, fans blowing, and temperatures constant. But each year, their jobs become harder. “Our air handlers were designed for smaller spaces,” admitted Taylor. “Because of the hospital expansion over the years—even closets have become offices—we’ve got them stretched to capacity.” Sharshan notes the challenge of finding parts for old air handlers and maintaining an inventory of them.

The new regional medical center changes all of that. Eight uniform air handlers, each the size of an office space, will distribute conditioned air throughout 500,000 square feet of hospital space. This modern-day system will include energy-efficient variable fan speeds, relative humidity controls, ultraviolet lights to zap infectious diseases, and back-up fans for when primary fans malfunction. Most importantly, the HVAC system and all other major mechanical systems will be controlled digitally. For Roger Taylor this means diagnosing air quality and plumbing problems using intelligent software. Only a portion of the current hospital can be maintained and monitored using a computer.

A digitally operated HVAC system becomes important when the entire rehabilitation unit becomes too cold in the middle of the night, or a trauma surgeon complains that his operating room is too warm during a weekend emergency surgery. The software triggers a page to a facilities technician who can immediately address the issue from an onsite or home computer.

Technology, not wizardry, will give patients, physicians, nurses, and facility technicians control over the temperature of their environment. Even if the air surrounding us is invisible, the role it plays in our comfort is real.


© 2010
Washington County Health System
251 East Antietam Street
Hagerstown, MD 21740

TDD: 1-800-735-2258
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