Reconsidering Traditional Methods of Installing Ceiling-Mounted OR Equipment in an Award Winning Hospital Construction Project

In 2005, Henry Ford Health Systems hired Albert Kahn Associates and Turner Construction to build a new 300-bed hospital in suburban West Bloomfield, Michigan. The three-story, 730,000 square-foot hospital design featured ten operating rooms with identical layouts, all fitted with green-tinted lighting to help surgeons see tiny objects during operations.

The hospital opened its doors in March 2009 and has gone on to win an impressive number of awards, including the 2010 Healthcare Project of the Year Award and the Award of Excellence from Healthcare Weekly Review.

Considering all of the thought that went into the project, could anything have been done better?

The project principal, Albert Kahn’s Vice President, Director of Healthcare Planning Rob Sharrow gave us some insight into the project’s structural design phase, a small but important part of the total effort. Although the structural design process represented less than 10% of the total effort that went into designing the hospital, the decisions made during that phase held a great deal of importance.

Sharrow noted that installing ceiling-mounted equipment in all ten operating rooms was a “very chaotic” process.

Did the Albert Kahn Associates team use pre-fabricated mounting solutions?

“No,” Sharrow admitted. “We didn’t know the option existed at the time.  If we had, we would have used it. With a pre-fabricated solution, the systems can be installed in a day or two as opposed to literally weeks of separate contractors coming and trying to work around things that have been placed ahead of time.”

With a pre-fabricated solution, the systems can be installed in a day or two as opposed to literally weeks of separate contractors coming and trying to work around things that have been placed ahead of time.

How did the Albert Kahn Associates’ team mount ten separate ceiling-suspended equipment booms?

“We custom-designed everything,” Sharrow said. “It can be messy to do it like that. The process is not one that is a very effective use of resources, money or time.”

“Typically, things are made custom out of welded angles, or from standard products that are bolted together,” Sharrow said. “We tend to shy away from those because they haven’t been stiff enough for some of the moment loads you get. For example, you need an extremely stiff mounting system for say, a boom arm, which may weigh several hundred pounds and may have an extension that is held out seven to nine feet. This creates a huge moment load; kind of a turning moment load. If it isn’t dead still, the boom will tend to vibrate, tilt and start to drift. The surgeons expect it not to drift at all. You also don’t want it to vibrate, because it may affect the functionality of the device or system that is mounted on the arm.”

“The equipment needs to be stable in the event of something like an earthquake. An earthquake would induce additional loads on the mounting equipment. Certainly, dropping equipment on the surgical team or the patient would not be acceptable.”

Sharrow said he didn’t see the value in the universal grid system, another alternative to custom-designed and pre-fabricated support structures. “You build an OR ceiling, and it’s there for the life of the building. The owner may want to change equipment out and put something new in. He may or may not be able to use the universal grid that is above the ceiling. There might be duct work or piping that is in the way. So, again the owner is back to square one. He would not see a return on the money invested in the universal mount.”

In the case of the Henry Ford project, Sharrow’s team built ten operating rooms designed the traditional way with welded steel angles supporting all of the equipment. The four new operating rooms, which will open in about a month, are designed the same way.

“We looked at a more integrated system that would be about the same cost, but it wasn’t standardized.”

“What we really needed,” Sharrow said, “was a product like Accu-Mount.”


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