Hospitals rely on a vast array of electro medical devices to provide care for patients, from routine monitoring to life-support to the equipment used in operating suites and laboratories. There’s so much of it, in fact, that it can be a problem finding places to plug it all in.
NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code, and NFPA 70®, National Electrical Code® (NEC®), provide performance and installation requirements covering the electrical systems and equipment for hospitals, including rules covering the minimum number of receptacles and the required number and type of circuits supplying these receptacles. Revisions to the 2014 NEC address the need to provide more receptacles for cord-equipped medical apparatus at patient bed locations and in operating rooms. (For perspective, consider your own home or office space and the number of plug-in devices that are in use, from power supplies for computers and associated equipment to chargers for cell phones and entertainment devices.) Having a sufficient number of permanently installed receptacles helps reduce the need to employ portable multi-outlet devices such as power strips, which are often used improperly.
In general-care spaces, the number of receptacles required has increased from four to eight, and in critical-care spaces the requirement has increased from six to 14. It is important to note is that by definition a receptacle is a single contact device, and the commonly used duplex configuration accounts for two receptacles. Individual devices, or combinations of single, duplex, and quadruplex-configured devices, can be used to meet the expanded receptacle requirements. Although the minimum number of receptacles has increased, the requirements on the number and type of circuits to supply these receptacles remain unchanged. This underscores the fact that the issue is not a need for more power at these locations, but rather to provide sufficient spaces to connect the equipment used for patient care and comfort.
The new NEC also increases the receptacle requirement for operating rooms. In order to provide an adequate number of receptacles to supply cord- and plug-connected portable electro medical equipment in operating rooms, the 2012 edition of NFPA 99 included a requirement establishing the minimum number of receptacles at 36. Because this requirement relates to the performance of the electrical system in a health care facility, it is the responsibility of the NFPA 99 Technical Committee on Electrical Systems to establish the minimum number of devices. However, because this requirement also directly impacts the installation of electrical equipment, it is also included in the 2014 NEC. To help increase the reliability of the power being supplied to operating rooms, the receptacles must be supplied by not less than two circuits. At least one of these circuits has to be supplied through the essential electrical system, which means that there will be power to a selected number of the receptacles even when there is a loss of normal power, which is typically supplied by the electric utility.
Increasing the minimum number of receptacles required in patient care spaces is just one example of how the NEC and NFPA 99 work together to improve the electrical infrastructure of health care facilities. Ultimately, requirements that help deliver safe and reliable power to the electrical equipment in hospitals are an essential part of patient care.
Jeffrey Sargent is a regional electrical code specialist for NFPA.