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Another way to handle noise and acoustical challenges in a hospital is use sound-absorbing ceiling tile. "When walls do not go to the floor slab above and just go as high as the ceiling, noise comes in from the floor above and also from the patient room next to you," Roy explains. It goes up through the ceiling and through the plenum.
If the wall goes only as high as the ceiling, look for a ceiling tile that has both a high CAC (ceiling attenuation class) rating and a moderately high NRC (noise reduction coefficient) rating, says Roy. CAC measures how well a material blocks sound transmission through a plenum between adjacent closed rooms, while NRC is a measure of sound absorption. "If you can absorb sound in space, then there is less sound transmitted through the ceiling and into your patient's room," Roy says.
Hospitals are also using technology to avoid creating excess noise — for example, by using a flashing light instead of a buzzing sound, and individual paging sent to people's personal electronic devices, rather than universal paging. According to Roy, windows in the patient room and a computer station on a cart outside the door can also cut down on the number of trips into a patient's room.
In a hospital space that is two or three stories high, acoustical devices such as partial clouds, canopies, or three-dimension elements can be hung to help absorb some of the unwanted sound.
In any discussion of acoustics, it's important to remember that speech clarity is also highly desirable in health care settings. Patient and doctor must be able to understand each other, and nurses must understand doctors and vice-versa. "Good speech intelligibility is determined by the clarity of sound (when acoustics create low reverberation) and the amount of noise," Roy says.
Maryellen Lo Bosco is a freelance writer who covers facility management and technology. She is a contributing editor for Building Operating Management.
Soundmasking & Mass Notification
Using the same network, music, paging, life safety, and other types of communication become part of an overarching acoustical solution that also includes soundmasking.
In 2010, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) revised its Fire Alarm and Signaling Systems handbook to include a more extensive emergency communication system of audible and visible messages to reach 100 percent of the intended audience.
"Mass notification systems have requirements for speech intelligibility," says David Smith, director, business and channel strategy, Lencore, "and we are in the unintelligibility business, so we understand intelligibility and can meet its standard."
With a networked soundmasking system, facility managers can integrate visual displays, text messaging, digital displays, strobe lights, and tweets, says Smith. He sees a natural partnership between mass notification and soundmasking and predicts that soundmasking companies will increase the number of partnerships with other companies to provide an integrated "life safety" solution.
— Maryellen Lo Bosco
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Sound-absorbing Ceiling Tile Can Help Improve Hospital Acoustics