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B.C. doctor develops COVID-19 vacuum chamber to protect hospitals

Click to play video 'Abbotsford Hospital operating room infection solution' Abbotsford Hospital operating room infection solution
An Abbotsford doctor has come up with a new, temporary solution to help prevent the spread of coronavirus infection from patients undergoing surgery. Ted Chernecki reports.

A doctor at B.C.’s Abbotsford Regional Hospital has come up with an innovative way to keep staff and patients safe when working with COVID-19-positive patients in the province’s hospitals.

Anesthesiologist Dr. Curt Smecher worked with the hospital’s maintenance staff to design the negative pressure vestibules, airlock-like chambers, that now guard operating rooms at the Abbotsford, Surrey Memorial, Burnaby and Royal Columbian hospitals.

The units were built and leased to the hospitals by Langley company Ezee Hoarding, which installs temporary, reusable wall modules — many in the health-care system.

The vestibule combines two important medical concepts that are at odds with one another during the pandemic.

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Hospital operating rooms are usually kept at a raised air pressure, so that air flows out of the room and no germs can flow in and infect a patient.

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Patients with an infectious disease, on the other hand, are usually kept in a room with negative pressure, ensuring potentially contaminated air doesn’t flow out and infect others.

Negative pressure vestibules combine those two concepts.

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Smecher said B.C. hospitals needed the addition given the potential risk of spreading COVID-19-infected droplets during a surgical operation or intubation of a patient.

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“We put an anteroom in front of the operating room, we put a fan on that with a filter and we put it on suck so it became a negative pressure area,” he said.

“It’s been characterized as very much like a vacuum cleaner that just vacuums up the virus and just gets rid of it, so anything coming out of the operating room doesn’t go into the corridors, instead it goes into the filters and away from anyone who could potentially get infected.”

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Smecher said the idea took about a week to win approval from Fraser Health, with crews getting quickly to work afterward — a process he called “light speed” within a health-care bureaucracy.

That speed, perhaps, was driven by the high stakes of the situation.

“We put this in place because of what we were hearing from China and from Italy. It was in anticipation,” he said.

Kyle Olinek with Ezee Hoarding said the COVID-19 vestibule design was actually adapted in consultation with the hospital’s maintenance team from negative pressure rooms the company has used in the past to keep debris and particles out of hospital clean rooms during construction.

They should actually get a lot of credit over this as well, because they they’re they’re right there in the work,” he said.

“We went over it came up with the design of specifically what’s going to work for that location and then provided them with a quote.”

Ezee Hoarding rents the vestibules to the hospitals, but says it has extended the loan indefinitely at no cost.

Olinek said the company is also offering their temporary modular wall products to other health-care providers at a discount, and says they could also work for restaurants or other businesses that want to separate parts of their business once they are allowed to reopen.

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— With files from Ted Chernecki