January 2013: An Apple a Day

Happy New Year and welcome to our January newsletter! This month’s topic is Acoustics in Healthcare Facilities. If you’ve ever had an overnight stay in a hospital, you know one of the most annoying aspects is all the noise. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep and recover when medical equipment alarms, commotion in hallways, and people talking at nurses’ stations keep you up all night. Read on to learn more about how to reduce noise to keep patients and staff happier and healthier. 

Metropolitan Acoustics was commissioned to help assess a problem at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. Specifically, sound transmission from the nurses’ stations to the surrounding patient rooms was a continuing source of discontent. To reduce this sound to the patient rooms, we worked with Gardner/Fox Associates to design a glass barrier with openings only at the egresses. No longer can people lean over the counter to talk; they have to go into the station. It also contained the sound from notification equipment and phones within the station. In addition to the glass, we recommended more absorptive ceiling tile in the nurses’ stations and in the corridors. Our readings showed that these changes reduced sound levels by 10 decibels, which loosely translates to being half as loud. The following pictures show the before and after images of a nurses’ station.

Hospital Corridor Before Picture
Hospital Corridor After Picture









A hospital in Maryland hired Metropolitan Acoustics to determine the sources of noise coming from the corridors that were adversely affecting the hospital’s HCAHPS (Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) scores. To conduct the testing, we suspended microphones attached to sound level analyzers in six corridors for 48 hours to help determine the sources of noise to patient rooms. The picture below shows the microphone system suspended in the corridors.

Hospital Corridor with Microphones

Hospital Corridor with Testing Microphone in Ceiling

When levels reached a certain threshold, the sound was recorded as a wave file which we could listen to after we collected the meters. As it turns out, 95% of the sound was from people talking and utilization of equipment carts in the corridors. To reduce this sound, we recommended gasketing patient doors (and keeping them closed), using more absorptive ceiling tile, and enclosing the nurses’ stations similar to Pennsylvania Hospital.

The 2010 Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities by the Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI) has various acoustical requirements. These requirements include design criteria for acoustic finishes of spaces, room noise levels from HVAC equipment, performance of interior wall and floor/ceiling assemblies, speech privacy for enclosed and open-plan spaces, and building vibration.

This is the first time that FGI has included acoustical requirements, which is a major breakthrough for patient privacy and comfort. When designing to 2010 FGI, be sure to consider these requirements before beginning the project. You don’t want to get too far into your design before deciding what to do about the noise from the heliport on the roof! The acoustical needs of a healthcare facility can be challenging, but with some advanced thought about designing the facility for peace and quiet, you can head off problems before they start.

Relevant Projects:

  • Abington Memorial Hospital – Abington, PA
  •  Atlantic Health Center – Morristown, NJ
  •  Booth Radiology – West Deptford, NJ
  •  Chester County Hospital – West Chester, PA
  •  Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) – Philadelphia, PA
  •  Cooper Health System – Voorhees, NJ
  •  Delaware Psychiatric Center – New Castle, DE
  •  Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital – Darby, PA
  •  Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center – Camden, NJ
  •  Penn Presbyterian Hospital – Philadelphia, PA
  •  Saint Mary’s Medical Center – Langhorne, PA
  •  University of  Pennsylvania Dental Clinic – Philadelphia, PA

All photos by Metropolitan Acoustics

February 2013: Some Heartfelt Sound Advice
December 2012: Deck the Walls with Acoustic Panels