Check Up on Ceiling Features for a Healthier Environment

Paul Nutcher

October 2005

Patients capable of looking on the bright side when they find themselves in a medical setting often heal faster and stronger than their counterparts.

This has prompted designers to incorporate daylighting strategies into both new hospitals and renovations. To enhance natural light coming from improved and better positioned windows, architects are specifying highly reflective ceiling panels.

Crittenton Hospital Medical Center in Rochester, Mich., has maintained its commitment to improving the health environment since 1967 for residents of Rochester Hills and surrounding communities. Hospital leaders renewed that commitment with the inception of a four-year $86 million expansion of its medical, educational and support services.

The expansion of the suburban Detroit hospital includes a three-story, 45,000-square-foot extension on the north side, including a magnificent two-story atrium lobby. The new building houses an auditorium, patient registration, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation center and expanded laboratory.

The number of beds will remain at 290 because an increase in surgical procedures will be offset by a rise in the number of the procedures being performed on an outpatient basis. An additional 25,000-square-foot expansion on the south end doubles the size of the surgery, radiology and emergency departments. Construction of the north and south additions was completed in 2004 with interior finishing and renovations of the existing hospital building to be completed by 2006.

Patient Friendly Design
From the new atrium lobby to the private surgical recovery rooms, the addition of windows throughout the expansion will maximize the amount of daylight and natural views each occupant will absorb and increase the positive impact on the recovery, health and well being of patients, nurses and doctors.

In seeking the perfect balance of functionality and sustainability, the project architects, Albert Kahn Associates of Detroit, called for ceilings with high light reflectance and noise reduction features. To satisfy those specifications, ceiling systems from BPB America were chosen.

Acoustical ceiling panels were used in the corridors, storage rooms and bathrooms throughout the hospital. Another type of acoustical ceiling panels was used in the operating rooms and the surgical department, labs and at the cart wash area.

"A warm, friendly, and non-institutional environment plays an important role in patient comfort and satisfaction,” said AKA vice president Robb Sharrow, AIA. "Through its Health Care Group, AKA is committed to the development of building designs that embody human-focused care amenities and successfully compete in the marketplace,” Sharrow added.

The high light reflectance feature of the ceiling panels equate to a greater potential for a better healthcare environment. The acoustical ceiling panels used in the operating rooms and surgical department have a Light Reflectance of .88, and the other panels have a LR of .82.

Installation of higher light reflectance ceilings makes sense because studies have shown that a hospital staff is more alert in a bright, well lit facility. And, what helps the staff will be passed on to those people most in need of an alert medical staff. A not-for-profit community hospital, Crittenton is one of Rochester Hills’s largest employers, with a staff of more than 1,600 and more than 500 physicians.

In addition, there are ways that higher light reflectance ceilings potentially contribute to an increase in patient-centered medical care in both daylight and artificially produced indirect light, which can reduce glare and eyestrain as medical staff look over patient histories. At night, the ceiling panels also reflect indirect lighting into areas where an alert and attentive staff is needed to care for patients.

"The ceilings in today’s dynamic healthcare facilities have to accommodate as many different tasks performed within the hospital as possible and help not hinder the facility’s occupants,” said Linda Vendt, ceiling systems manager for BPB America. "Spatial and acoustical features as well as the durability of a ceiling panel are among several performance measures to be considered when designing for the healthcare environment.”

Acoustical Design Features
Ceiling system such as the one installed at Crittenton can improve more than just the spatial environment within a hospital. The acoustical qualities of a ceiling panel also work toward a better overall environment.

Architects recognize that medical facilities can use ceilings as part of a comprehensive approach for compliance with speech privacy requirements contained in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. A ceiling panel with a higher Noise Reduction Coefficient of between .55 and .70 in combination with ceiling panels with a high sound transmission loss rating or Ceiling Attenuation Class of 35 or higher should be specified to help achieve compliance. The ceilings installed in the operating rooms, surgical department and labs at Crittenton Hospital gained an NRC of .60, and a CAC rating is 40.

In addition to achieving patient privacy goals, acoustical ceilings can also improve the quality of a patient’s visit to the hospital by reducing background noise from hurried foot traffic, heart monitors and other medical devices.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggests that hospital noise levels not exceed 45 decibels during the day and 35 decibels at night, but studies have found that noise levels can range from 60 decibels to 84 decibels in hospital departments on a given day depending on the department, with the intensive-care unit typically gaining the loudest readings.

Still, further noise reduction can be achieved during the day through creatively using the sun as a source of light because a reduction in florescent lighting achieved through well executed design can help reduce the background noise from light fixtures, and that helps to reduce the overall generation of noise within the facility.

Additional Acoustical Ceiling Features
In addition to the standard panels, some ceilings have an optional speaker panel as well as tiles containing fixture openings. The optional speaker panel accommodates hospital designs utilizing the benefits of music in patient recovery. Music is another documented strategy for improving the overall health of a hospital’s occupants.

The same benefits of music can be seen in appropriate art selections for the walls and ceilings. Paintings of older homes, barns and flora in full bloom are more appropriate than desolate landscapes or abstract pieces evoking negative emotions.

Stylish ceilings also can complement the color scheme on the signage hospitals used to assist patients walking the medical campus. When the signage is more inviting, the patient is less likely to feel overwhelmed with all the corridors and multiple doorways they have to navigate before meeting with a physician. Appropriate signage can provide the patient with the perception of having more control over their environment. When patients feel in control of their situation, studies have shown that their hospital stay can be shortened.

Ceiling Maintenance
The VinylShield A ceiling panel is a popular product for healthcare applications. The non-porous and moisture resistant facing of the VinylShield A panels make it easier to clean. The panel is stain and abuse resistant for keeping rooms clean where cleanliness is not an option.

The panel is designed for sanitary and clean room applications or where low particle emission and maximum cleanliness are required. The panel combines USDA/FSIS acceptable vinyl (non-perforated) with a wet-felted ceiling panel. The VinylShield A meets federal sanitary requirements for certain clean room and food processing areas.

VinylShield A is relatively inexpensive to install and weighs only 1 pound/foot-squared. The VinylShield A at Crittenton Hospital was hung using a 5/16” trim edge grid, which is a highly durable support structure.

Energy Efficiency
Not only can patients benefit from natural light, but the financial success of a facility also can be improved with the right choice in ceilings.

Hospitals, which typically operate approximately 75 percent of their lighting 100 percent of the time, can gain significant savings on their energy bills by effective daylighting strategies. In addition to lighting cost savings, daylighting can lower the initial cost of purchasing and operating mechanical systems because smaller heating and cooling systems are needed. These cost savings can equate to more profits and reinvestment into the important task of providing healthcare.

But high light reflectivity and optimized energy performance are just two of the many ways in which some acoustical ceilings are good for the environment. In fact, some of the Celotex brand acoustical ceiling products can help building teams earn rating points in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects registered with the U.S. Green Building Council, because the products are made of such a high recycled content. Further potential LEED credits may be achieved in waste management; rapidly renewable materials; and low-emitting materials, paints and coatings.