Behind the Scenes: Engineering


We sat down with the Engineering team to learn more about the ways they take care of KVH facilities. Mitch (team lead, with 12 years at KVH); Terra (department secretary, 11); engineering techs Robert (.5), Tim (8), Jody (26), and Ben (2).

Who’s the go to person for what, on your team? Jody’s the painter.

M: So is Terra. We go to Tim for locks and doors. Robert’s our HVAC guy.

J: Ben’s master plumber.

(To Mitch) And you’re the enforcer.

Tim: He’s the phone guy.

What’s the best thing about working in engineering?

J: We’re never doing the same thing, day after day after day.

What’s the most challenging thing?

M: The frustration sometimes of not being able to fix things as fast as they need to be fixed. It’s challenging. When heating goes down when it’s cold out, or the cooling goes down when it’s hot out, how fast can you get it going?

‘Cause you’re only going to hear from several hundred people.

M: Another challenge is the 13 houses that we own; they need constant care. And then we have all the outer facilities, too.

Including Cle Elum?

M: That’s where Ben is now. Ben’s our Cle Elum guy. We spend a minimum of one day up there every week. We have preventative maintenance that needs to be done. It comes in huge sheets. Hundreds and hundreds of things that we have to do besides emergent things.

There’s a checklist about a mile long is what you’re saying.

Your work covers such a wide range. Can you give me a simple definition for engineering?

M: General maintenance. And sometimes we have to actually engineer something to keep it working.

Any engineering misconceptions you would like to clear up?

Tim: We’re not security.

M: We’re part time security when needed. And we have these little vests we can throw on. Other than that. Yeah. I think they look at us like we are, it’s not what we do.

Any other misconceptions or surprises?

M: I’ll take people on a tour, and they get to talking about the heating and cooling, and to actually see how that works is kind of fascinating if you’ve never seen the large scale of it, with the giant chiller and boilers making hot water and cold water, sent throughout the whole building.

With surgery, there’s things that have to be a particular temperature…

J: And humidity. We have to control humidity. We fought it all last week with the rains.

You can’t change the weather. So how do you control the humidity?

J: By computer. There are units installed that can add humidity or dehumidify the surgery suites.

R: With room temperatures, people have different preferences, but we have to find happy mediums.

M: Our goal is to be 71 degrees. That’s, that’s the happy place, really.

I love that. That should be your motto.

So why do you guys come around to offices with a stick and a piece of ribbon attached to it?

Checking air flow. To see if air is blowing. If not, then that is probably part of your problem.

Now is that one of those checklist things that you do periodically or is that when you’ve got a complaint or both?

M: That’s if there were complaints.

You have supply and you have return. We want to make sure the air that’s being blown in is being taken out. If you go up on the heliport, you open the door to that fan and it’s a hurricane. That’s the kind of pressure it takes to fill the building. And if you’re going to pressurize it, you have to remove it, too. So we’re dealing with huge fans to make this work.

We think of “call” as a patient care thing, but you have 24/7/365 coverage. How does that work?

M: We rotate. We each get one week, through the weekend.

J: From Monday to Monday.

Have you ever been called in in the middle of the night?

J: On a weekly basis, yeah.

“It’s 65 degrees. Get down here!”

R: Sometimes people think we’re not getting to their problems, but it takes time to fix things. And with outside vendors, we’ve got to wait even longer. “I put that two weeks ago.” “Yeah. I haven’t gotten the part yet.” And then there’s money concerns. I mean, if it’s a big item, we’ve got to wait for approval. People can get frustrated waiting.

I think a lot of us are used to instant fixes. Right? Need to get that fixed in 30 minutes or less.

M: You may have a light out right here for you in your office. We go through the work orders and make sure that the patient care items are handled first.

I’ve heard you say that before, that you prioritize patient care. It’s why I’m always shocked when somebody shows up for my thing. I’m like, don’t you have a list a mile long of really important stuff?

R: We might be waiting on a part! (Laughter)

You all work so hard. How do you survive a day in engineering?

J: What keeps me coming back every day is the crew that I work with. The people on this team.

You’re in it together, right? That makes all the difference.

Baseline responsibilities: 2,000 pieces of equipment, 3,597 PMs, and 33 systems

Director Ron Urlacher currently spends about half of his time focused on facility renovations. He’s grateful for a capable team that expertly handles the department’s ongoing work. Ron shared some additional insights with us about the work of KVH Engineering.

One of the difficult things to wrap my brain around is defining what Engineering does. It seems like a pretty broad spectrum.

Ron: And it is. Maintenance calls – plugged toilets, changing lights, hanging up whiteboards, all those little things – and lots of square footage to take care of, including the district houses, with lawns to be watered daily, garbage to be set out for weekly pick-up, and general maintenance.

When one of those systems goes down you have to put on your problem solving hat. It’s a whole different skill set. Even if you can’t fix the problem, you need to understand the problem so you can call the right contractor and relay the right information so they can come prepared.

For example, let’s say an air handler goes down. You need to determine if it’s a mechanical problem, electrical problem, control problem, or other system feeding it such as boiler or chiller and everything associated with that. With each of these problems come different contractors. It could even be IT infrastructure as our controls are computerized. Anyhow, that’s when the fun starts.

We also handle office moves, interjected into the normal workflow. And there’s all the preventative maintenance that we do. I wish I had a count of the pieces of equipment.

I’m sure it’s hundreds or thousands or…

Ron: Literally. And each piece has to be maintained. Which gets into the world of compliance. A lot of things have to be documented on a regular basis, things that inspectors look for.

How is engineering different in a healthcare environment?

Ron: There’s so much variety. The hospital has 33 distinct systems we manage and maintain. There are some commonalities, but each system is unique. Trying to keep up on the science of all those is a challenge.

How does Engineering support the mission of KVH?

Ron: Through safety, really. Some of these systems are high risk. Like when a patient is on oxygen, the expectation is that oxygen will flow and that’ll flow at the right rate and it won’t be liquid, you know? It’s about creating a safe environment. We work behind the scenes so that you can take it for granted.

Patients won’t even realize that you’re there, because everything is working as it should be.

Ron: Exactly. I always say if they don’t see you, that’s a good thing.