Smoke intrusion into health care facilities is not only a significant health concern but can be an extremely impactful event.

As an example, a critical access hospital was evacuated earlier this year due to smoke from faulty wiring in a construction project. While there was no active fire, the smoke damage was serious and required the hospital to remain closed over the weekend. Another facility had to shut down its operating room suite due to smoke infiltration from work performed on the roof. While no patients, staff or visitors were harmed in this incident, the impact of canceling surgeries for a day is significant.

One of the key aspects of avoiding such incidents is the proper implementation and use of appropriate life safety measures during construction activities. By preparing for and implementing alternate measures, facilities can avoid these incidents. Additionally, routine safety inspections are also vital to assure alternate measures are properly implemented and construction work is performed safely. For help in determining the basis of appropriate safety measures, check out the May 2021 Advocacy Advisor column in Health Facilities Management magazine.

Another increasing concern is the intrusion of smoke from wildfires. Experts project that wildfires will become even more frequent in the years to come.

Earlier this year, a 63-bed hospital had to be evacuated due to the Caldor Fire in California. “A true emergency evacuation of a health care facility is a daunting prospect” states the editor of The Last Stand (ASPR TRACIE), a document which details the experiences of staff members involved in evacuating a hospital during a 2017 wildfire in California.

Being properly prepared for such an event is critical. ASPR TRACIE provides dozens of links to tools and resources regarding wildfires, including online webinars such as the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health Wildfires Webinar or online courses from the Environmental Protection Agency such as Wildfire Smoke and Your Patients’ Health.

Taking advantage of these types of tools and resources will help prepare health care facilities for these types of events.