Special to Valley News
One doctor of nuclear medicine in Henderson, Nevada, said he knew the coronavirus pandemic was serious and dangerous, but like many health care professionals, “preparedness and immediacy was paramount for everyone involved when the pandemic hit. A team effort is a must from everyone within every hospital in the U.S. for this disease or we will all lose.”
Alex Munoz is just one of those medical professionals who was part of a medical team in the Murrieta Valley that helped treat and save lives without having the medical title letters in front of his name.
“I started out in aviation maintenance in the military and then worked in health care maintenance for the last 15 years,” Munoz, who is now the director of plant operations for the Southwest Healthcare System, which includes Rancho Springs Medical Center and Inland Valley Medical Center, said. “When the pandemic hit, I was hired right away as the director.”
While many America’s doctors and nurses have been rightfully labeled heroes in doing whatever they possibly can to save lives through this pandemic, Munoz is one of those professionals that has a little different of a hero cape – creating negative pressure isolation rooms.
“Working with our infection prevention teams, we needed to increase our negative pressure isolation rooms,” Munoz said.
Negative pressure isolation rooms use air pressure from adjacent corridors where there is air supply, and it exhausts the air out through either a HEPA filter or exhaust system out through the roof. These types of rooms are mainly used for respiratory disease patients which fits the mold for the coronavirus.
“These rooms are not as common as you would think,” he said. “We are required to have so many negative pressure rooms based on the number of beds we have originally through both campuses (Rancho Springs and Inland Valley Medical Centers). But what COVID-19 did was throw us a curve ball of the normal patient room that doesn’t require the negative pressure room.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended placing COVID-19 patients in these types of rooms, but according to Munoz, “Many hospitals are lucky enough to have only enough negative pressure rooms based on the number of total beds per hospital. That is the greatest challenge we have.”
According to Ashlee Collins, marketing manager of Southwest Healthcare System, said, “The Southwest Healthcare System made a great decision with their addition of Munoz in 2020.”
In what can be called some very “creative engineering across the board,” Munoz, along with his fellow mechanical technicians and operations staff, created a small external ducted system that met all the COVID-19 requirements.
The Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, a California health care regulatory agency, noticed the design Munoz and his mechanic specialists built during a COVID-19 patient surge from Thanksgiving to the turn of the 2020 year.
“OSHPD came out and noticed our design and the model we had built and was impressed in what he had done,” Munoz said. “In fact, they spoke very highly of the design used in our Ranch Springs campus as an example for other health care facilities to follow.”
COVID-19 did create some operational changes in health care delivery according to Chris Tokas, deputy division chief of the facilities development division for OSHPD. Their goal was to isolate and treat infectious patients while continuing to provide vital services that keep people healthy.
“Everyone in the hospital, including our everyday housekeepers hunkered down and made sure everything was clean and safe for current patients in the rooms and for the next patients coming in,” Munoz said.
The Francis J. Curry National Tuberculosis Center in San Francisco said a properly designed and operating isolation room can be an effective infection control measure. Infectious airborne particles are contained within the room, and the concentration of these particles inside the room is reduced.
“The best part of this project is that it is a collaborative effort amongst some great health care and operations specialists to make sure that the air flow was safe for the patients but also safe for the environment,” according to Munoz.
In the middle of a pandemic, Munoz, his staff and the Southwest Healthcare System took steps to safely treat not only people in southwest Riverside County, but hospitals across the country as well.