VRF Zoning System Offers Privacy, Savings for Health/Wellness Facility

Grand Lake Mental Health Center, Inc. (GLMHC), Nowata, Oklahoma, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation serving northeast Oklahoma since 1979. Its eight clinics provide mental health services to adults, children and families. GLMHC purchased what is now its Ottawa County Clinic (OCC), Miami, Oklahoma, in 2009. The facility was GLMHC’s entree into integrated care, providing both physical and mental health services.

Challenge: To find an HVAC system that offers patient comfort and privacy while also keeping utility bills low.

Creating the OCC facility involved gutting the 20,000-square-foot building that originally served as a bar and dance club. When designing HVAC for the new space, Larry Smith, chief operating officer, GLMHC, said “a big concern was economy. We were looking for a system that would save on utilities.” The R2-Series Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) zoning system from Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc. Cooling & Heating Division (Mitsubishi Electric) delivered that economy while also providing the patient privacy and zone control essential to health and wellness facilities.

Patient privacy is crucial to health and wellness facilities, in particular, because of the sensitive nature of the conversations taking place. Smith added, “A risk in a therapeutic environment where return air systems are tied together is that voices carry. You can’t have that.” Bill Kite, executive director, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)-Oklahoma (at the time the vice president of CDL Electric Heating and Cooling, Pittsburgh, Kansas), reiterated this concern as the project’s contractor, noting the challenge of “finding an HVAC system that provides comfort without any air movement between rooms.”

VRF zoning technology was an obvious solution to the privacy issue given its minimal ductwork. Kite said the technology also appealed because of its “efficiency, comfort level and lack of noise in patients’ rooms. VRF has it all and the efficiency levels are tremendous compared to traditional systems.” The team selected a system from Mitsubishi Electric because “they are the ideal candidate with VRF systems. Mitsubishi [Electric]’s record is not just about efficiencies, but warranty and service issues. They are the best equipment on the market.”

Installation began and proceeded smoothly: Kite said, “The labor for the HVAC system wasn’t that involved, it’s a labor-saving system.” The results have greatly pleased GLMHC. Smith said, “That risk of voices carrying is not happening with the Mitsubishi [Electric] system. The design of the system allows for privacy.”

Challenge: A VRF zoning system from Mitsubishi Electric provided the needed patient privacy, comfort and cost savings.

Smith said the zoning technology also “allows us to regulate individual areas based on the business we’re providing.” Patients undergoing exams in one part of the facility can be kept warm while patients working out can be kept cool. The zoning technology also ensures that the on-site pharmacy’s medicines are kept cool despite the surrounding heat-producing equipment. Any area not in use can be shut off entirely to avoid unneeded cooling and heating, furthering the cost savings. “It’s very impressive,” said Smith.

GLMHC is also satisfied with the system’s sound and aesthetics. Smith said, “You don’t even notice the indoor units. You don’t hear them.” The two outdoor units are “large enough to handle a 20,000-square-foot building but not so large that you can’t take a six-foot chain-link fence and encapsulate them. Mitsubishi [Electric] designed them to be attractive.”

Smith also reported that the air is cleaner. “The building smells fresher. People come from all over Oklahoma to see the facility. It’s the ideal design for integrated care. Everyone that comes, makes a remark about the freshness. And this was an old bar with a dance floor!”