IAQ and Hospitals

Indoor Air Quality

Very few people want to spend time in hospitals. Sure, there are the doctors, nurses, and surgeons whose livelihood depends on it, but they’re getting paid to be there unlike the majority of population. Be it sickness or injury, a trip to ER usually involves a certain level of fear. For those of you in the Houston area, the Texas Medical Center is a hop, skip and jump away offering 47 institutions to aid in your medical quest plus progressive techniques and procedures that promise you’ll get the best treatment possible. Being so close to the country’s leading medical facility and top docs can alleviate a fair amount of said anxiety and fear, which is a welcome relief considering on any given day in the United States some ninety thousand people are in intensive care. Over a year, an estimated five million Americans will be, and over a normal lifetime nearly all of us will come to spend some amount of time there. AND THAT’S ONLY THE I.C.U.! In 2007 and at our fair Medical Center alone, 5.5 million patients paid a visit.  With so many lives at stake and, more generally, with so many bodies co-existing in such cramped quarters it is understood that strict sanitation and safety precautions are taken.

The word hygiene comes from Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health, who was the daughter of Aesculapius, the god of medicine. Since the advent of the Industrial Revolution (c.1750-1850) and the discovery of the germ theory of disease in the second half of the nineteenth century, hygiene and sanitation have been at the forefront of the struggle against illness and disease. Of particular importance in medical history, puerperal fever was one of those diseases that intrigued and baffled doctors in the nineteenth century. The disease was conquered when obstetricians began washing their hands between deliveries. Puerperal fever was eradicated with cleanliness.

Long gone are the days of mice, lice and fleas hopping from patient to patient.  Steps are taken to insure instruments are sterilized and entire rooms sanitized.  If the doctor is going to be poking around inside you, you would be appalled to discover they hadn’t washed their hands first and were wearing gloves.  Yet with all the safeguards how is it that people are still getting sick just from being in the hospital. Deadly germs are still being spread between patients but unlike the days of yore it isn’t necessarily from direct contact with contaminated objects. Hospitals seems so sterile that most people don’t think about the risk they are put in due to airborne threats, invisible to the naked eye but being pumped into operation rooms and waiting rooms  throughout the country. Hospital IAQ (indoor air quality) is a problem and if the institutions would turn their attention to the A/C systems they would realize their hospitals were not as sanitary as most believe.

Hospital infections kill more Americans each year than AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined. Scarier still, about three of every 100 operations performed in the United States are complicated by surgical site infections. Compared with uninfected patients, patients developing surgical site infections spend an additional 6.5 days in the hospital, are more likely to be readmitted to the hospital, and are more likely to die. In the Intensive Care Unit, I.V. line infections are so common that they are considered a routine complication. I.C.U.’s put five million lines into patients each year, and national statistics show that, after ten days, four per cent of those lines become infected. Line infections occur in eighty thousand people a year in the United States, and are fatal between five and twenty-eight per cent of the time, depending on how sick one is at the start.

Fortunately these issues are being addressed. In 2007 Texas passed a law to hold hospitals responsible for on site infections.  This law on hospital reporting requires hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers to reports surgical-site infections and central-line bloodstream infections in intensive-care units. It also requires reporting for pediatric and adolescent hospitals/units.  The first report was to be issued June 2008, but the state failed to fund the initiative, which has delayed its implementation.  While reporting instances of infection and recording data on the subject is helpful in the long run, some things can be done immediately to reduce the threat of airborne microorganisms, such as fungus, bacteria and viruses. With all this in mind, we should all feel very lucky to live in such close proximity to not only a large quantity of healthcare institutions but also institutions of outstanding quality.

We want to hear from you! Call or email to tell us about your indoor air quality problems.  We’ll help you find the right solution.