Pa. Contractors Donate N95 Masks, Negative Air Machines to Local Hospital

Thu April 09, 2020 - Northeast Edition #8
Lori Lovely – CEG Correspondent



In a demonstration of community support, Rycon Construction Inc. donated N95 face masks and negative air machines to St. Clair Hospital in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., to help keep patients and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A southern suburb of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County, Lebanon got caught up in a "later wave" of the coronavirus outbreak, according to Marianne Olschesky, hospital community outreach and marketing specialist.

Clairton Mayor Rich Lattanzi confirmed in a Facebook post that an Allegheny County person died from COVID-19. St. Clair Hospital is now closed to visitors "to ensure the health and safety of patients and staff."

While they currently have more than 100 cases, Olschesky said doctors are expecting that number to increase. The rising number of cases puts a strain on the hospital's staff and equipment. The State Health Secretary said the number of cases is doubling about every two days, so state health officials are preparing for the hospital system to be strained, particularly in terms of ventilator supplies and protective equipment.

To the Rescue

While there's not much a construction company can do about medical personnel, Chuck DeBellow, vice president of construction and facilities at the hospital, knew they could help out with equipment, so he reached out to a few local contractors, including Rycon.

Rycon is currently contracted to complete renovations at the hospital. Founded in 1989, the construction company has offices in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cleveland, Ft. Lauderdale and Philadelphia. Specializing in new construction, renovations and design-build projects, Rycon performs pre-construction, general contracting and construction management in 30 states. Its portfolio includes light industrial, commercial, multi-unit residential, governmental, financial, retail and health care projects in a range of up to $200 million.

Negative Air, Positive Result

A negative air machine, aka an air scrubber, is commonly used on hospital renovations because the work creates and stirs up a lot of dust, debris and germs — a particular detriment in healthcare facilities. The negative air machines significantly reduce the amount of dust and pathogens that are circulated into other parts of the renovation project and operating hospital areas by creating a pressure differential between the different areas.

In fact, a negative air machine is considered one of the best ways to keep dust and pathogens from coming in contact with patients and hospital staff, which is exactly why they were donated. "The negative air machines are being used to convert current patient rooms into negative pressure rooms that can be used for COVID-19 patients," Olschesky said.

Under more typical circumstances, the machines use ducting to remove contaminated air from a sealed containment area; they then exhaust filtered air outside the containment area, creating negative air pressure — a vacuum effect — to help restrain the spread of contaminants.

Air wants to move from higher pressure areas to lower pressure areas to reach equilibrium. Negative air pressure machines use this natural inclination to the advantage of infection control and dust containment by directing unfiltered air to HEPA filtration units.

Because ventilation is a critical part of the setup, a fan system forces air out of the isolated area and through a HEPA filter before it is exhausted into another area. If HEPA filtration is not available, air must be ventilated outside.

Ongoing Need

Rycon isn't the only contractor to donate. Olschesky said that Mosites Construction and Development, a construction management and design-build contactor based in Pittsburgh, donated fitted rubber masks and exchangeable filters. Mascaro Construction Company LP, one of the region's largest contractors also based in Pittsburgh, donated N95 masks.

Olschesky expressed the hospital's gratitude for the donations, saying, "These machines and masks will help keep our patients and health care professionals safe and ensure we're able to provide the highest quality health care."

But she said there's still a need for unused, unopened masks and other personal protection equipment, so the hospital and Allegheny County health officials will continue actively seeking and accepting donations. CEG