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Mechanical Engineer Has Rx for Medical Facility HVAC Design
Andre Fouche

Medical employees, patients and visitors never notice when Andre Fouche designs seamlessly integrated ventilation and air conditioning systems for their hospitals. But without the 30-year-old mechanical engineer 's expertise, the facilities would be akin to Third World clinics.

Fouche ensures that hospitals provide an efficient and sterile environment for modern medicine’s advancements to take root in his job in the Nashville office of Smith Seckman Reid Inc., an engineering and information management company that provides consulting services for a variety of engineering, telecom and computer-related fields. He makes sure that medical facilities stay cool to limit the life of bacteria, that airflow from contaminated rooms doesn’t spread disease, and that noise from mechanical systems is eliminated.

As a youth, Fouche often tinkered with household appliances and at one point disassembled the family weed-eater and lawn mower. His love of the outdoors sparked an interest in environmental engineering, and as a teenager, he chose a college with an environmental engineering program. However, after attending several career fairs at Vanderbilt University, he discovered that in order to register on job recruiters’ radar he would have to change his major to one with higher visibility.

Fouche eventually earned his mechanical engineering B.S. degree from Vanderbilt in 1996 and has been with Smith ever since. The Mississippi native has also worked on several multi-million dollar construction projects, including the Baptist Springhill Medical Center in Springhill, Ark., Denton Regional Medical Center in Denton, Tex. and Crest Hospital in Tulsa.

"Many of the hospital projects have unique design requirements for operating room ventilation, pressure control for infectious patients, and cooling of spaces with sensitive medical imaging equipment," says Fouche. "Often environmental considerations are given for the design of the fuel oil systems, discharge of high temperature condensate, and discharge of noxious or deleterious exhaust air."

During a $180-million construction project at a University of Alabama- Birmingham diagnostic and treatment facility, a wind tunnel study revealed that contaminated exhaust airstreams might affect outside air intakes. Fouche and his colleagues used carbon filtration to mitigate the helicopter fumes. In addition, Fouche added several design elements to its mechanical systems, such as a secondary cooling system from roof-mounted air-cooled chillers, to guard against heat buildup in intensive care units in the case of a permanent cooling equipment failure. The Birmingham facility also contains cross-connected air handlers that supply air to critical areas in the event of the failure of a motor or cooling coil.

In nearly every project, Fouche encounters challenges in providing the comforts of noise reduction, fresh air and a cool environment that doctors, nurses and patients expect in a medical facility. That includes controlling noise from air-cooled chillers.

Consumed with designing ventilation systems during the day, Fouche often finds himself evaluating air conditioning and heating systems when he’s off the clock. "Curiosity often arises about the design of mechanical systems when I visit even common places such as restaurants. In general, the evaluation at medical facilities and places like restaurants usually is limited [because] critical design elements are not readily visible or accessible," he says. "I may look at where the diffusers [are] placed. Are the diffusers clean? Did the architect/engineer do something innovative in the room layout? What kind of noise emanates from the mechanical system? Usually a couple of key things alert me.  It is easy to detect if the building is under positive or negative pressure when you enter the door."

Fouche keeps up on new technologies and changes in the ventilation and air conditioning sector by participating in a variety of professional organizations, including the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the National Society of Professional Engineers and the Association of Energy Engineers.

"I aim to continue to track new and developing topics that relate to the healthcare design field and HVAC industry," Fouche says. "I also plan on increasing [my] project management experiences on large hospital projects and building a long term relationship with existing clients."


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