Chris O’Higgins, the director of facilities at Jefferson Healthcare, stands next to the new air handling unit that heats, cools, monitors humidity and kills germs in the air in the hospital’s surgical units. (Cydney McFarland/Peninsula Daily News)

Jefferson Healthcare surgical units get air handler upgrade

PORT TOWNSEND — The surgical units at Jefferson Healthcare hospital have received an upgrade from a new air-handling unit that kills viruses and bacteria using ultraviolet light.

“We have things on this unit that aren’t even required yet,” said Chris O’Higgins, director of facilities at the hospital. “It’s the Tesla of air handlers.”

The new system replaces one installed in 1995 that didn’t meet new standards and was nearing the end of its 20-year life span.

The new unit controls the air quality for the surgical units, including operating rooms.

“This one has a new ultraviolet light system that kills bacteria and viruses,” said Laura Showers, the infection preventionist at Jefferson Healthcare. “It’s also really good at keeping humidity and temperature more consistent.”

The new unit has three banks of filters, and all air passes through the UV light system before being released into the vents. Information on the cost of the unit was not available Wednesday.

The new unit was hauled in by truck last Friday morning and moved up to the roof using an 80-foot crane. Due to strict air quality and temperature standards for the operating rooms, they had to be shut down while the new unit was installed later in the day.

“It took a lot of coordination,” O’Higgins said.

The surgical units were shut down at 4 p.m. last Friday. With operating rooms out of commission, the hospital had to make special arrangements in case of emergencies.

With no operating rooms and work being performed on the roof to install the air unit, all helicopter services had to be sent to other hospitals. East Jefferson Fire-Rescue, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and Port Townsend police were notified to send anyone who could potentially need surgery to other area hospitals.

The hospital also accounted for six area women who were currently 32 weeks or more along in their pregnancies.

“We had plans in place in case they went into labor to send them to other hospitals,” O’Higgins said. “Obviously the hospital would’ve covered those costs since it was our problem, not theirs.”

O’Higgins said the process went smoothly, and the operating rooms reopened at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The air-handling unit was installed by PSF Mechanical out of Seattle and Precision Electric out of Redmond.

“They worked really well together and with us,” said Showers.

According to O’Higgins, the hospital plans to install next year a similar unit to replace the 1995 equipment currently heating, cooling and filtering the air for the family and birth units.

The new systems are expected to last another 20 years and are more energy-efficient.

“I can’t wait to see what a month of that one does compared to the ’95 unit,” O’Higgins said.

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at cmcfarland@peninsuladailynews.com.