MURRAY — As the world has fallen further and further under the control of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, certain terms have started to frequently appear in news items about the disease.

One that is getting more attention the past week or so has been “negative pressure” rooms when it comes to facilities that are being included in the battle against this disease. Many people probably do not have an understanding of what these are or why so many people would be talking about them.

Murray-Calloway County Hospital CEO Jerry Penner took some time to discuss this because, as it appears, hospitals are the places most likely to have such facilities. He said it is all about how air is circulated.

“The hospital is required by the Joint Commission to have so many air exchanges in a room per hour. Now, that’s for a normal room, so if you were to open the door and your door slams, for example, that’s how you know it’s positive pressure,” Penner said, then turning the conversation toward negative pressure. 

“A negative pressure room works the other way around. In a negative pressure room, all of that air is getting sucked into a HEPA filter, which is a special filter that is designed to capture all of the bad stuff in that room, whether it’s dust or contagions, whatever that may be, then gets vented out of the building. That way, whatever is in there, if a person coughs, or if a person is having a nebulizer treatment, all that bubbled air is getting sucked out so it doesn’t blow out into the hallway.

“That would be horrible because, first, you’d have that stuff blowing into the patient’s room, then have it going on out into the hallway and having everybody walking through it. Negative pressure sucks that into the filter, then vents it away from your normal traffic.”

Penner said the hospital has such rooms and had a portion of its Medical Arts Building converted to negative pressure for the Murray Medical Associates Respiratory Clinic that was opened last week. He said that was possible by a herculean effort from hospital Facilities Director Mark Torsak and his team.

Dr. Robert Hughes, co-founder and chief medical officer at Primary Care Medical Center in Murray, said these rooms are designed specifically for hospitals, not doctor’s offices, which is why Primary Care does not have such rooms. However, he said that at a time like this, they are very valuable.

“Would they help? Yes. If you’ve got a critically ill patient, say, that’s COVID-19 positive, yes, it would be good to have so that air does not come into the overall facility,” Hughes said. “Hospitals, and predominantly, intensive care units are going to be reserved for people with highly contagious illnesses.”

Penner said all of the negative pressure rooms at MCCH are in the newer South Tower portion, which was opened in early 2010. He said converting the upper respiratory clinic to negative pressure was quite difficult because Medical Arts is an older building.

“Older hospitals may not be able to have that design,” he said, noting that negative pressure rooms are present in MCCH’s emergency department, its post-anesthesia care unit and some regular rooms on the floors of the South Tower. 

“Most hospitals have these, but not all. We are very fortunate to have (the South Tower). Not every room is going to be a negative pressure room, but those that are set aside for that have got entry precautions and little entry spaces before you enter the actual room. You can treat a patient with coronavirus in a positive pressure room, but you’ll have to take extra precautions. Our staff would have to gown up, put on the shields, wear face masks, all of that.”  

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