Do No Harm: Healthcare Projects 
and ECs

Electrical contractors working in healthcare facilities must adhere to rigorous safety protocols, the National Electrical Code and cleanliness standards often tougher than those imposed in other types of projects. Conditions and challenges vary, but the job of ECs in healthcare construction is ultimately to create a safe, clean, functioning environment for patients and staff members.

Electric Supply Co. Inc.

Electric Supply Co. Inc., Sioux Falls, S.D., has been in business since 1923 and has worked in the healthcare industry for more than 50 years. Its partnership with Sanford Health, an integrated health system based in Sioux Falls and Fargo, N.D., has lasted more than 30 years.

The company has performed work on more than 1 million square feet of the Sanford Health Sioux Falls campus. Remodels and new construction include the Sanford Children’s Hospital, Sanford Heart Hospital, Edith Sanford Breast Center, Sanford Surgical Towers, and the Sanford Women’s Health Plaza. Its current project is constructing Sanford Imagenetics, a 100,000-square-foot building that will house an innovative program devoted to pharmacogenetics, which studies genetic factors and reactions to drugs.

“By testing for genetic variation among patients, our doctors can prescribe the right drug at the right dose at the right time,” said Paul Hanson, executive vice president, Sanford USD Medical Center.

Thanks to its relationship with the Sanford System and general contractor Henry Carlson Co., Electric Supply Co. was invited to assist with preconstruction services. 

“We provided budgets at the conceptual, the schematic and at the 40-percent construction document level,” said Robert Jarding, vice president, Electric Supply Co. 

This assisted the team in the budget process.

Sanford Health used two design teams to complete the construction documents. In a competitive hard-bid approximately 10 months after preconstruction services began, Electric Supply Co. was awarded the contract as EC.

Working in a functioning hospital required special coordination and planning.

“At the core of any challenge we might face in the hospital setting is always being conscious of the patient,” Jarding said. “This includes professional dress and behavior and adherence to all hospital policies related to HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability of Accountability Act of 1996], security and patient interaction. For example, you can’t have a blocked hallway, and corridors have to be unobstructed paths to area egress points at all times and kept clear of carts, ladders and tools whenever possible since patients, staff and the public are using the same space as our crew. Unattended carts may not be placed in a corridor longer than 15 minutes.

“Another issue we have to be sensitive to is the amount of ambient noise, which is the most frequent complaint made by patients on hospital surveys. To address that in one aspect of our work, we offer a dual-circuited fire alarm system, so testing of the initiating circuits can be accomplished without sounding the horns, just testing the strobes. In addition, our crews can’t and don’t blind cut or drill into a wall or ceiling cavity because that could cause serious, possibly life-threatening, consequences since the walls can contain various vital medical gas piping as well as electrical and data circuitry, which is connected to life-sustaining equipment. Every hospital system is critical whether it is the power distribution, lighting or any of the low-voltage systems.

“Keeping up with the certifications and specialty training that is needed for our employees is an ongoing challenge,” Jarding said. “We work closely with our specialty vendors to get certifications for everything from MV cable terminations to being able to offer network warranties through the Panduit certification process, both of which validate our skill level and product knowledge.”

Mid-City Electric Co.

Mid-City Electric Co.—a 56-year-old, family-owned EC in Columbus, Ohio—completed a year-long hospital project in spring 2017. Working alongside Layton Construction, the project transformed a hotel into Sun Behavioral Health, a 72-room, 144-bed inpatient psychiatric hospital. Mid-City Electric demolished all existing electrical service and replaced it with new conduit, wire, switchgear, panel boards, transformers, LED lighting with daylight-harvesting lighting controls and an 800-kilowatt generator. It also completed teledata work—cabling for CCTV, video surveillance, 11 telecom rooms and a new fire alarm system.

“Everything we have installed in the facility is antiligature, including the light fixtures and outlets,” said Max Combs, project manager, Mid-City Electric. “We can’t install anything that protrudes. All outlets must have tamperproof screws. The LED light fixtures that we used were unique as well and had to be special ordered due to the antiligature requirements. The needs of the building haven’t had a major impact on our work … . However, using these kinds of antiligature devices throughout the installation was a bit different than anything we have done in the past.”

Egan Co.

In Rochester, Minn., Egan Co. was the EC on the Mayo Clinic’s Richard O. Jacobson Building, the first facility in the Midwest capable of providing proton beam therapy used to treat cancer and the only proton beam facility in the country that allows a beam to be manipulated into patterns depending on the cancer size and type.

“The project, which was completed in 2015, was bid out in multiple phases,” said Jeff Young, vice president, Egan Co. “We were awarded the different phases, which enabled us to perform the entire project.”

The 235,000-square-foot building consists of 30 examination rooms, two CT scan treatment rooms, four proton beam treatment rooms, one MRI treatment room, 60 offices and pediatric treatment rooms, including an induction suite.

“The building has been designed to allow for a future expansion of up to 17 stories, which necessitated some unique design challenges—particularly with regard to utilities,” Young said. 

Utilities travel from central utility plants in underground tunnels that include a 24-inch steam line, 24-inch chilled water lines, medical gases and electrical service from two sources to minimize disruption to patient treatment. Egan Co. provided power distribution, including two 15-kilovolt feeds, five double-ended unit substations, an emergency switchboard, an uninterruptible power system (UPS) and transfer switches.

“We relied heavily on technology, specifically building information modeling [BIM],” Young said. “BIM development started six months before we were on-site. Our BIM team interacted with the other trades on a weekly basis for coordination and clash detection to ensure our conduit wasn’t running into their ducts or our light fixtures weren’t hitting sprinkler lines.”

Due to its virtual construction and capability of working remotely, Egan’s Rochester location was supported by the in-house BIM specialties of the company’s Minneapolis location.

Woods Electric Co.

In early 2017, Woods Electric Co., Santa Fe Springs, Calif., wrapped up a nine-month nurse-call replacement project at Kaiser Hospital in West Los Angeles. It was a retrofit of the nurse call system in pre- and post-operative areas—areas made of individual bed stations separated by curtains. 

“Every night was a mini-job,” said Richard Orozco, general foreman, Woods Electric. “We had to work at night on the project­—set up to do our work, open walls—then in the morning, everything had to be sealed and cleaned, since the area had to be back in use for patient care. It was real challenging.

“A general issue we always face is that we have to walk through public areas while carrying or moving materials and are faced with patient traffic and sharing the space with the general public,” he said. “People in a hospital are not always paying attention. They can be distraught or tired, injured or sick, so we have to be extra cautious.”

In some cases, Woods Electric’s crew worked in pop-up containment cubes—platforms on wheels that had to be raised to the ceiling.

“Crew members would basically work in a canvas box,” Orozco said. “They’d bring a ladder inside, then zip up the cube behind themselves in order to keep the area as dust free as possible. If the electrician wanted to move, he had to climb down and relocate the cube all over again. There’s a lot of steps to working in that environment.”

Crew members had to don special respirators to protect them from ingesting dust and wear full-body protective suits, including foot coverings. They also had to be careful that all the dust was confined to the cube they were working in. They used a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum, which contains filters capable of trapping extremely small, micron-sized particles.

As a follow-up, crew members had to take extra measures to protect their own health, such as having flu shots and getting vaccinated.

“Kaiser Permanente Occupational Health does a whole series of blood work on us, checks that all our vaccinations are current and periodically monitors our respiratory system because of the dust environment,” Orozco said. “Aside from the actual job, we have to keep ourselves healthy and safe by washing our hands, using alcohol and hand sanitizer because the hospital is not the cleanest place to work, as far as germs go.”

Once the system was fully functioning, Woods Electric provided the hospital with certifications that the system was functioning and complied with all the hospital rules. The company also trained the staff and nurses on how to use the system.

“From beginning to end, the whole process of a project in a hospital is very intense and involved,” Orozco said. “Overall, rules on working in hospitals are strict and well-enforced. California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development has its own on-site inspectors with us full-time during construction who enforce all the special codes and rules and inspect every portion of our work from start to finish. They’re really strict. You can’t hide anything, can’t take shortcuts. We have to do everything the right way.”

That is exactly what any potential patient wants to hear, that contractors working on healthcare facilities are taking care at the places that might wind up taking care of you. 

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