NH acute hospitals add portable isolation units

State readies for SARS, bioterror

In what may foretell a trend in other states, New Hampshire has equipped every hospital in the state with portable isolation units that quickly can convert regular patient rooms to units under negative air pressure.

"This equipment not only prepares us for bioterrorism, but will be useful on a daily basis for many types of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and SARS," says Kathy Bizarro, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Hospital Association (NHHA) in Concord. "By adding these portable isolation units to every hospital, we’ve more than doubled our isolation capacity statewide."

The portable isolation unit specifications include high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters with 99.99% efficiency. The units create negative pressure, with 12 air exchanges an hour, that prevents contaminated air from escaping the room. The isolation rooms can be set to vent clean air out of the room or recirculate the air in the room.

The $140,000 equipment purchase for the state’s 28 acute care hospitals was funded through a federal bioterrorism preparedness grant. The hospitals received a total of 53 portable isolation units, and the state purchased another nine for emergency delegation. Prior to the purchases, the total number of isolation rooms with negative pressure and HEPA filters was 36. Now, the total number of rooms with isolation capacity in New Hampshire is 89.

The NHHA surveyed all the hospitals to determine existing isolation capacity. Several categories of isolation were considered, such as private rooms, rooms with only negative pressure, with just HEPA filters, with both, and the number of portable isolation units. Portable isolation units were chosen so that the hospitals can choose which rooms in their facilities to convert to a negative pressure and HEPA-filtered environment. Hospitals also can share portable units in the event of a regional or statewide response effort.

The portable units can create an isolation room as effectively as a fixed unit in a fully renovated room, the NHHA reported. In addition, a portable unit is inexpensive compared to purchasing a fixed unit and renovating a single room, the association determined.