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Highlights | Working under pressure

    • The HVAC shop at Harborview Medical Center contributes to every aspect of hospital operations.
    • They’re used to working as a team to handle long-term projects and urgent requests.
    • During COVID-19, they converted entire floors into negative-pressure isolation rooms.
    • While the work can be challenging, they appreciate the collaboration and teamwork at Harborview.


Chat a little while with the crew of Harborview Medical Center’s HVAC shop — short for heating, ventilation and air conditioning — and you start to pick up on a few things.

For one, these technicians within Facilities Management Engineering work hard. After all, the equipment and systems they’re responsible for impact every aspect of Harborview’s operations, from temperature control to air flow to fire-prevention safety measures.

Another thing you notice? This team takes great pride in their work — and rightfully so.

“Wherever you go in Washington, everyone knows what Harborview is and understands the importance of the work we’re all doing here,” says Kevin Cronin, engineering operations manager. “You do feel a sense of pride because this is a really good place to work and an awesome group of people to work with.”

A shop with a common goal

Within the HVAC shop itself, there are five employees: Christopher Lanz, operations manager; Jake Bennett, control tech lead; Dave Wren, control tech; Ian Haynes, control tech; and Mark Corier, machinery mechanic. They each bring a special set of trade skills to the shop and, together, have more than 32 years of experience at UW Medicine.

The crew handles both long-term projects and urgent requests. They perform planned improvements, complete regular maintenance and compliance testing, and respond to daily requests from people throughout the hospital.

And if a curveball comes their way? Well, they handle that like any effective team would.

“We prioritize requests and come together as a group to discuss what our options are, what a system is doing and what action we need to take to meet a certain goal,” Lanz says.

A collaborative response to COVID-19

This all-in approach came in handy when the COVID-19 outbreak hit the Seattle area.

Suddenly, Harborview needed to convert regular patient areas into negative-pressure isolation rooms — and fast. These specially ventilated rooms control air flow so that contaminated air can’t escape, something that’s especially important for staff and patient safety.

So the HVAC shop got to work. After discussing matters with clinical and infection prevention staff to figure out the most feasible areas to convert, they began turning floors of the West Hospital and Norm Maleng Building into negative-pressure rooms.

“The areas of the hospital we did end up making negative were a bit challenging to do, but the guys that I work with here love those challenges,” Lanz says.

In all, it took them a couple of days to complete the initial work, which also required close collaboration with other shops in engineering and facilities. The cooperation between teams was so seamless, Wren says, that it’s almost like the entire engineering division was one big shop.

“One of the good things about working at Harborview is the teamwork concept,” he adds. “Everybody is willing to help and do whatever it takes to put patients and their families first.”

An ongoing team effort

Although the initial work went smoothly, the negative-pressure isolation rooms require constant monitoring, maintenance and communication.

If the team needs to perform a small equipment check on a fan, for example, they have to bring in infection control and nursing to discuss whether or not they’ll be able to shut the fan off for a short while. And all of this additional work is on top of their regular responsibilities around the hospital.

It’s been a challenge adapting to wearing a mask and dealing with individual comfort levels about COVID-19, but not much else has changed, Lanz says.

“We were already together before this all started, and it’s just the same as before,” he explains. “We have a common mission and when we come to work, we carry out that mission. Our commitment as a team is how it always has been.”


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