Aurecon works with Auckland District Health Board to help Auckland’s hospitals prepare for the new COVID normal.


Auckland District Health Board COVID-19 Rapid Works, New Zealand

Helping Auckland’s hospitals prepare for the new COVID normal

As vaccination rates increase and restrictions ease around the world, Aotearoa New Zealand is joining other countries in embracing a new COVID-19 normal. The New Zealand Government is investing in upgrades to existing hospital facilities across the country to enable clinical teams to better support planned and routine care while safely caring for COVID-19 patients.

A key aspect of this is increasing negative pressure capacity within hospitals and improving ventilation within acute and critical areas.

Aurecon is working with Auckland District Health Board to convert existing bed spaces and consultation rooms at Auckland Hospital and Starship Children’s Hospital to negative pressure environments.

Keeping patients and clinical staff safe

Negative pressure rooms work by maintaining a pressure differential between spaces – the air pressure is lower within the negative pressure patient room in than the adjacent corridor or clinical areas, thereby preventing the flow of air or other contaminated particles to non-contaminated areas.

This helps keep non-COVID patients and staff safe. Where space permits, additional ante rooms (small chambers) have been created – enabling a pressure cascade from patient room to ante room to corridor, further protecting against airborne contaminant spread during staff entry and exit.

Maintaining this pressure regime requires a complex network of mechanical and electrical engineering, including new plant rooms, high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered exhaust systems and specialist monitoring, alarming and control systems. The HEPA exhaust system has built in plant redundancy to protect against equipment faults impacting operational performance.

Control systems provide clinical and facilities staff with accurate, real-time information on how the system is performing, with visual and audio alarms activated instantly if a room is failing to maintain negative pressure.

New essential electrical supplies and Uninterruptible Power Systems (UPS) ensure continuous power supply and pressure differentials are maintained, even in the event of a mains power failure. Some areas are equipped with Deprox functionality – meaning individual rooms can be fully isolated and sanitised (flooded) with a hydrogen peroxide vapour, while the remaining areas continue to operate as negative pressure environments.

Delivering at pace

The speed of a COVID-19 outbreak and associated potential surge in COVID-19 patients means the work needs to be undertaken in extremely compressed time frames. Aurecon’s experience on previous projects for Auckland District Health Board, including Taiao Ora, the hospital’s new Integrated Stroke Unit, has been invaluable, with established relationships and our understanding of hospital operations enabling a fast start and rapid progress.

The first package of works was identified, designed, procured, installed, commissioned, and handed over as accredited negative pressure spaces for clinical use within just six weeks. Typically, this work would take six to nine months to complete.

Achieving these timeframes has required a collective commitment by Aurecon, our client, contractors, and the supply chain to go above and beyond, including significant weekend and evening work. With many key items currently having long lead times, a strong relationship with the supply chain has been imperative, as well as the ability to develop innovative solutions to work around material and equipment availability.

Minimising disruption to patients and clinical staff

Much of the conversion works have been focused on areas of the hospital where patients are critically ill, including Auckland Hospital’s Adult Emergency Department and Starship’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit so mitigating impacts is imperative. Significant effort has been invested in staging the project to minimise disruption, and ongoing communication with clinical staff is essential to ensure works do not impede their operations.

Extensive use of hoardings has helped manage noise and keep patients and clinical staff safe. The delivery team is adopting a zero-defects approach to accelerate commissioning and handover, enabling clinical teams to take over the completed rooms as quickly and safely as possible.

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