Isolation Space


Located in Winfield, Alabama, Northwest Medical Center provides medical care to three counties in a rural region of the state. The new facility replaced the historic Winfield Hospital in 1998 and several specialized services were added since then, including a rehabilitation facility, dialysis center, assisted living center, and surgery division. The hospital is a 71-bed facility that provides care to approximately 2,500 inpatients and 60,000 outpatients annually.

Rural hospitals were particularly hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite steep financial losses, administrators, and medical staff at Northwest Medical Center remained devoted to providing the community with uninterrupted, exceptional medical care. They were able to maintain a high standard of care by investing in Air Innovations’ IsolationAir® Portable Contamination Control Systems to control the spread of the virus.

The Challenge

Prior to the pandemic, Northwest Medical Center was fully equipped to serve a population of 30,000 citizens. When the virus struck the area, it quickly became evident that they did not have the ability to test and treat possible COVID-19 patients safely and quickly. The primary challenge was a lack of adequate space since they had only two rooms in the intensive care unit (ICU) that had been converted into permanent negative pressure spaces. However, if they tested and treated COVID-19 patients in these two rooms, others would not receive the critical care they needed.

Rather than limiting capacity in the ICU, the hospital dedicated two standard patient rooms to test and treat COVID patients utilizing ultraviolet (UV) light and sterilization protocols to control the spread of the virus. Housekeeping turned on a UV light for ten minutes before conducting a complete wall wash to disinfect the rooms after each patient was discharged. The process took long enough that the hospital experienced a bottleneck of people requiring care.

The most obvious solution was to build additional negative pressure rooms to cope with the surge in patients. However, the two rooms required major changes to the existing HVAC system, which was costly. In fact, they had hoped to construct four negative pressure rooms but had to reduce the scope of the initial project to two rooms. They did not have the funds because of the financial burden the hospital was under due to the pandemic. Therefore, it was time for the architects to find an alternate solution.

The Solution

With the money they received through the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, Northwest Medical Center purchased two Air Innovations’ IsolationAir negative & positive pressure systems in the fall of 2020 and a third later in the year. The purpose of these investments was both to safely and efficiently test patients and to dedicate space to treat those requiring a higher level of care from COVID-19. The portable units came with HEPA filtration, UV light sterilization, and a simple ductwork connection to easily create self-contained, negative pressure rooms. As a bonus, these units will also be an asset to the hospital long after the pandemic has ended. For example, these units can also turn any room into a positive pressure room. Positive pressure rooms are a perfect solution for cancer patients, burn victims, and any other immunocompromised patients.

Fast Track Updates for COVID-19 Testing

The first IsolationAir® Contamination Control Systems were utilized in an Emergency Department “Fast Track” area for initial COVID testing. This ward is contained within part of a refurbished 1,500 square foot building and contains three evaluation beds, separated by partitions. When the Fast Track area is unoccupied, it can be used for the initial diagnosis of COVID, for one patient at a time. If known COVID positive patients enter the Emergency Department seeking further evaluation or treatment, they can be admitted to the Fast Track along with the initially diagnosed patient. This relieves standard occupancy rooms in the department for other emergency care.

Since the Fast Track department is located in its own building, the Northwest Medical Center team opted to connect the unit to the building’s HVAC system via a duct in the ceiling.

COVID Treatment Rooms

The other two units were used to transform two standard patient rooms into negative pressure rooms dedicated to treating people sick with COVID. Since the administration wanted to leave no room for error, they opted to modify an existing window in each room to be able to exhaust return air from the unit directly outdoors. Not having to integrate with the massive, existing HVAC system was a welcome option. Since all IsoationAir units are equipped to provide temperature and humidity control, patient comfort is never in question.

The cost-effective solution has meant that Northwest Medical is able to double the number of patients it tests and treats. They are able to turn over the Fast Track testing ward within 15 to 20 minutes, versus the amount of time it took to execute the wall wash protocol. They also finally have adequate facilities to care for the sickest COVID-19 patients, while keeping the two sterile rooms in the ICU devoted to treating non-COVID patients. Overall, the IsolationAir® Portable Contamination Control Systems has enabled the hospital to get a handle on the pandemic in the immediate term, as well as to make a meaningful investment in the future.

IsolationAir meets CDC, AIA, and ASHRAE guidelines.

The Results

Three IsolationAir units achieved the following results at Northwest Medical Center:

  • Enabled a space dedicated to COVID testing
  • Doubled the number of patients it tests and treats for COVID
  • Devoted two rooms to infected patients requiring extended care
  • Relieved pressure on the emergency room unit
  • Provided stable climate control for patient comfort
  • Invested in the post-pandemic future to create either positive or negative pressure rooms