How Engineering Services converts hospital rooms to contain COVID-19

Randy Jenkins

What does it take to convert a hospital room to one specially equipped to contain COVID-19? Surprisingly, the process requires minimal materials: Mapes panels, air scrubbers, duct work, door sweeps, and pressure monitors.

However, the conversion process itself is quite intensive. But with the expertise of our Engineering Services team, converting a room can take less than four hours.

While social distancing, extensive PPE, and constant sanitization are safety measures in place throughout UI Hospitals & Clinics, this conversion process is not required for all hospital rooms with COVID-positive patients. It’s simply an added safety measure for rooms housing patients with COVID who undergo aerosol-generating procedures.

“We go in and turn identified patient rooms into those that can be converted into negative pressure rooms,” says Randy Jenkins, associate director for Engineering Services. “Essentially, the process makes aerosol-generating procedures safer by removing COVID-containing aerosol from the patient room and reducing contamination for patient care units.”

Negative pressure

First, the Engineering Services’ carpentry shop manufactures what they call a Mapes panel—an insulated panel that replaces the window and provides a hole where the filtered air can be removed.

Next, the window in the hospital room is opened, and the Mapes panel is installed in the window frame. 

 “Then we install an air scrubber onto the Mapes panel,” says Jenkins. “The scrubber sucks in air from the room, runs it through a HEPA filter that removes particles, and pushed it out the window. The air that’s pushed outside is also safe,” says Jenkins. “Because the air is run through the HEPA filter, it’s safe for those outside.”

The process creates negative pressure within the room, meaning that the air inside the room is constantly pushed outside instead of circulating within the hospital. This creates a safer environment in the room and in the hospital.

“The air that’s pushed outside is also safe,” says Jenkins. “Before exhausting, the air is run through the HEPA filter, making it safe for those outside.”

Then, door sweeps are installed on the top and bottom of the patient’s room door to keep air from escaping into the hallway. Finally, an air pressure monitor—which sounds an alarm if the pressure in the room veers outside the desired range—is set up to ensure the room maintains its negative pressure.

Engineering as an art

In all, the transition takes four to five Engineering Services employees including carpenters, HVAC technicians, electricians, and locksmiths.

“It used to be a difficult process, but the team has done it so much it’s become straight forward,” says Jenkins.

The work these teams do is critical to patient and staff safety, so Jenkins and the rest of Engineering Services leadership are always quick to provide an encouraging word, giving their team a pep talk each morning. Praise from the nursing staff is also passed along.

We share that there are thousands of patients and staff that rely on us to keep this place as safe as possible. We remind our team how great a job they're doing and how important they are.

— Randy Jenkins, associate director for Engineering Services