LOWER COSTS! That mantra applies to almost every facet of the health care industry. Most of us have experienced the skyrocketing costs associated with health care providers, who experience the same thing in their own operations. Lowering costs has been a priority for some time.
But have they looked carefully at all areas of the institution to realize potential savings? A reduction of life safety provided to those in health care occupancies is not an option, but in some cases opportunities may exist to reduce costs through efficiencies or simply better planning.
Health care facilities employ numerous fire and life safety protection systems: fire alarm systems, automatic sprinkler systems, elevator recall, HVAC shut down, and security system interfaces, to name a few. Each of these systems has some form of monthly, semi-annual, or annual testing and maintenance requirements. Generally, the testing and maintenance of the different systems relies on individuals qualified to work on some, but not all, of the systems.
The cost-lowering challenge for testing and maintaining these systems becomes difficult when there are so many of them, and when they tend to be tested at different times and with little coordination. Health care facilities must often assign employees or security guards to accompany technicians, and testing and maintenance can cause localized interruptions in a facility’s normal activities. Facilities may also need to address concerns that cost-cutting efforts can have the unintended consequence of reducing the level of life safety provided by the systems.
One answer is to develop a plan that coordinates testing. As a first step, management reviews the various codes and standards that require the periodic testing and maintenance and develops a spreadsheet analysis for each system. A careful review of the spreadsheets will disclose where the test and maintenance requirements overlap, or could overlap, presenting an opportunity for cost savings. This can be especially valuable if a facility is comprised of multiple buildings, either contiguous or spread over multiple locations.
For the second step, ask each company providing testing services if it has technicians who can test more than one type of system — fire alarm and special extinguishing systems, for example, can sometimes be tested by the same technician. Once system testing is coordinated, ask each company for contract quotes that incorporate your new coordinated schedule — this will determine if the company can reduce costs through coordinated testing.
Other areas may yield cost savings, too, such as code-allowed reductions in testing that may be available based on new technology. For example, NFPA 10, Portable Fire Extinguishers, allows the elimination of the monthly inspection of fire extinguishers if the fire alarm system electronically monitors the extinguishers. Also, when you audit your systems, especially any electronic system like the fire alarm system, review the number of maintenance calls made annually — you may be able to reduce annual costs by replacing obsolete equipment that continually breaks down and requires expensive emergency service repairs. In addition, you may find a pattern of device replacement that would indicate you should make a design change to stop the constant replacement.
Understandably, the fire protection systems and devices in a health care facility exist to provide life safety and property protection. But careful analysis and coordination of testing and maintenance can assure the protection provided by these systems remains cost effective, too.
Wayne D. Moore, P.E., FSFPE, is vice president at Hughes Associates.