Last month, I discussed the potential engineers have to achieve post-COVID-19, high-performance health care. The pharmaceutical industry has touted high-performance IAQ long before COVID emerged. This is largely because the product going out the door of pharma production facilities has always been financially driven, and the occupants have always followed mandated restrictions (e.g., masks, hygiene criteria, etc.) the health care community has struggled to embrace and enforce. As a result, a hospital’s “products” (e.g., healthy patients leaving the building) do not match up to the pharma “product” because health care facilities are driven by public opinion, reputation, etc. Producing safe drugs for people mandates zero tolerance. In 2020, hospitals changed their modes of operation by dictating that masks be worn by everyone within such facilities, and enhanced hygiene procedures were implemented and followed. Hospitals received very little pushback because we were all experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have often asked the question, “What is more important, maintaining zero-tolerance for the health and welfare of humans going to a hospital or maintaining zero tolerance for the product pharma firms are selling to the public?”

Unlike health care facilities, the pharma industry is far more demanding of those who come and go from their buildings, while health care facilities are much more lenient. So, health care facilities come in second when it comes to protecting their “products.”

I’ve engineered hospital and pharma building projects, following the guidelines, standards, and codes on each project, and I must admit, it requires a lot more time to design an optimum health care project than a pharma project. Health care design criteria is first separated into three categories:

1.         Inpatient spaces with four pages covering room criteria;

2.         Outpatient spaces with three pages covering room criteria; and

3.         Residential spaces with one page covering room criteria.

Pharmaceutical HVAC design guidelines are exceptionally practical and are backed up by numerous standard operating procedures (SOPs) to support the continued compliance, e.g. (validation master plans).

With far less pharma room types and associated design criteria, the engineering is quite a bit simpler. The biggest difference between the two applications is how the facility is managed. Temperature, humidity, and air filtration are far more important to pharma spaces, whether the room is fully occupied or operating at limited occupancy. The construction of these rooms receives far more attention so as to make sure the rooms are tight, thus maintaining the design space humidity level. Construction of health care rooms is not as tight with the use of lay-in tile ceilings in many areas versus plaster ceilings, making it difficult for the HVAC operation staff to be able to sustain the engineer’s design intent document (DID) (e.g., temperature, humidity, space pressure, etc.).

There is far less diversity when selecting a central air system with a limited number of terminal unit types for a pharma application versus a hospital application, where the designer has far more options (e.g., chilled beams, fan coil units, etc.).

The more complex and/or diversified the HVAC systems, the more emphasis falls on the shoulders of the HVAC operation and maintenance staff, who need to be knowledgeable on the performance of a large variety of terminal equipment and device application options. The more diversified the number of HVAC systems within a building, the greater the challenge for facility staff who must continuously operate each system as efficiently as possible. Simplicity and the limited number of HVAC systems within a pharma building make the operation, maintenance, and energy conservation performance demanding but easy when compared to health care applications.