10 | Hospital noise - with Mai-Britt Beldam

December 20, 2019 Soundproofist with Mai-Britt Beldam Episode 10
10 | Hospital noise - with Mai-Britt Beldam
How Mai-Britt got involved in acoustics
Impact of noise in hospitals
Importance of architectural design to hospital acoustics
Sound absorbing materials can withstand hospital liquids
Activities and noise level has changed over the years
Actual decibel levels in hospitals
What are some of the barriers to noise control in hospitals?
Regulations in hospitals (mostly EU)
Results of acoustic treatments & how they are measured
How do you get projects/how do healthcare facilities find you?
10 | Hospital noise - with Mai-Britt Beldam
Dec 20, 2019 Episode 10
Soundproofist with Mai-Britt Beldam

Most people don't think about hospital noise until they become a patient in one. But jarring noises in medical facilities can disrupt sleep and impede recovery. Mai-Britt Beldam is a specialist in hospital acoustics for Ecophon in Sweden. In this episode, she discusses some common noise issues that impact patients and staff, suggestions for acoustical improvements, and how the results are measured. 

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Most people don't think about hospital noise until they become a patient in one. But jarring noises in medical facilities can disrupt sleep and impede recovery. Mai-Britt Beldam is a specialist in hospital acoustics for Ecophon in Sweden. In this episode, she discusses some common noise issues that impact patients and staff, suggestions for acoustical improvements, and how the results are measured. 

Intro: This is episode 10 of Soundproofist. And my name is Cary. Today we’re going to discuss a topic that most people don’t think about until they find themselves in a hospital. So we’re going to talk about hospital acoustics and noise. And its impact on patients as well as healthcare workers and what can be done about it. My guest is Mai-Britt Beldam. She’s a concept developer for Ecophon in Sweden, and she specializes in hospital acoustics. So let’s get started.

Cary: So, let’s start from the top. Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got involved with noise and acoustics.

Mai-Britt: Well, I think that when I was in high school, I never predicted what I do today, since I was really interested in languages and more humanities studies. So actually I chose to study French and ancient Greek. And back then, when I was in my early twenties, I wanted to be a teacher in a Danish high school. But life came along, and my first job was not as a teacher. I was working with — in a football club with business to business. And started my career in sales, actually. And then after a few years I got involved with a Swedish company called Ecophon. And I started my career at Ecophon, also in sales, where I was a customer service manager. Four years after I started as a customer service manager at Ecophon, a colleague of mine who was working with concept development quit. And my manager asked me if I should maybe think about changing positions. And concept development at Ecophon is more…well how can you put this? So concept development is more about research. So I started in Denmark as a concept developer for education, which meant I collaborated with universities on research on what impact room acoustics has on the teachers and students. And then after the four years as a concept developer for education, I went to Sweden to our headquarters and switched into healthcare.

Cary: So with education you were focused on the acoustics of classrooms then?

Mai-Britt: Yes. Classrooms, daycare centers… and we looked… back then I was part of a project with the Danish ADHD where we looked into what happens with these kids that are diagnosed, that have disabilities maybe, or cognitive challenges. How are they affected by sound and noise? So that was one of the projects I was involved with. I was also involved with the Danish organization for the hearing impaired. And we also looked into what happens with these kids in schools if they have a hearing impairment in good acoustics and in bad acoustics. So yeah.

Cary: Interesting. So you were mostly focused in Denmark or in the European region in general?

Mai-Britt: Well, right now I’m working globally. I’m a team leader of the concept developers we have locally. So my work today is more on a strategic level than it used to be in Denmark, where I was only working locally in the country. We are a few global concept developers and we have networks in all the markets where we try to have an impact on people and try to have a sound effect on people.

Cary: That’s great. So I would think in a way, there’s a similarity between focusing on schools and focusing on hospitals. Because if the acoustics are bad in a school, it’s difficult to learn. If the acoustics are bad in a hospital, it’s difficult to heal. But I also think the noises are different.

Mai-Britt: Yeah. Well, normally I say that when we work with room acoustics, sound…sound is energy. But the impact it has on different user groups is actually different. If we compare schools to hospitals, you’re in a totally other situation when you’re in a hospital. If I, for instance, have to go to a hospital, I’m already out of my comfort zone when I enter the premises. When I go into healthcare facility, I feel bad just being there. Which means that my system, my senses will be alert because I want to struggle to survive. My caveman or my cavewoman inside will be ready to fight the challenges. So when we go into a hospital, we are more alert than we would be in a school because that’s just another day at the office. For most kids, I hope. So even though we have the same challenges, I would say that we are more fragile when we go to hospital. Also because we’re sick.

Mai-Britt: If we are constantly woken up during the day, during the night when we’re sick, like you say, it’s impossible to recover. You could say that you would recover better in your home without room acoustic treatment because it’s your comfort zone and you can predict what will happen. So yes, you’re right. It’s the same thing, but it’s not totally the same thing. But we work with room acoustics. we don’t just look at the room and look at the people. We also look at the activities. How many sound sources do we have? Do we have a complex sound environment? And I also need to say that a hospital is a really complex sound environment. Today, it’s like a small city that works around the clock. The corridors are logistic corridors and also room for treatment and conversations. So we’d say it’s quite complex to work in hospitals and work in healthcare in regards to acoustics, because one size does not fit all. You have to look at the people, you have to look at the activities, and of course you have to get the properties of the room, the geometry and the surfaces, and the furnishings and so on.

Mai-Britt: Maybe my colleagues would disagree. My colleagues who work with offices and education, maybe they would disagree. When I say that it is more complex acoustics in hospitals, but it also has to do with hygiene demands. Sometimes it’s …you really have to think twice before you recommend a solution. Sometimes you need to know about the ventilation system. You need to know about the disinfection they do. Is it every day or how do they do it? Do they do it mechanically or is it high-pressure washing or…so it is working with good sound environments and healthcare is not always only about acoustics. Acoustics is about making the optimum solution that fulfills the highest demands on other things than just acoustics.

Cary: That’s one of the things I was going to ask you about. What are some of these acoustical issues, and especially those that are unique to hospitals? I know there’s all this machinery that’s often running all the time. And you mentioned corridors. I mean there’s probably people being wheeled through the corridors and things like that.

Mai-Britt: And I don’t know if it’s the same thing. In Denmark where I come from, and in Scandinavia we have public healthcare. And that means that sometimes in a hospital you can have a situation where you have too many patients. So not every patient can get their own room. And eventually maybe a patient is being placed in the corridor for an hour, or several hours if it’s really… If they don’t have space. So suddenly a corridor becomes also a patient room. So, we have to think about these worst-case scenarios when we make make advice to the building owners and in a building process that yeah, you want to design this nice neat hospital. Well, when we see marketing material from hospitals, it’s always nice and clean and people are smiling. But that’s not…that’s not the reality. Hospitals… it’s beeping. It’s alarms, it’s a lot of different sound sources.

Mai-Britt: They, you have sounds that cover the full spectrum in regards to frequencies. So sometimes we also need to design the acoustics around what is going on. And designing good hospitals is not only about room acoustics, it’s also about building it, right? I had a hospital stay with my son a few months ago. He’s all right. But I was so annoyed by the way they designed the doors, because on the every door in the patient ward, there was a gap. And so, whatever happened in the corridor, everyone…so picture yourself in a patient room, you want to recover, you want to sleep. And then you can hear the kitchen, the lunch is being served just outside. And you can hear the plates and the forks and the knives and everything, and the doctors talking. And so, you need to know not only about your own stuff, you need to know how are you going to design this hospital and how can we prevent maybe the sound from traveling under the doors and so on.

Cary: Well you have expertise in this. So for example, did you make recommendations? Or if you had the opportunity right now to make some recommendations on how could they solve that problem with the door, what would you recommend?

Mai-Britt: Well, I have also had short career in the door business. So I know that you can actually, you can buy some extension underneath that you can clip up and down or on and off. So, it is possible, but I think it has to do with easy cleaning, no knowledge, maybe it also has to do with money. So if when I get the chance to talk to people who are in the design phase, I always address this, but it is really difficult to visit the hospital afterwards and tell them, “You know what? All these doors? They’re not really good.” Because then nothing will ever happen, because it’s a big cost. It is also the same thing with the acoustic treatment. It is almost for free if you get it into the design phase. If you can have an architect to fit it into the drawings from the beginning, it’s for free. The problem is when the hospital was built and they forgot about the acoustics. Then it’s really expensive. We have research showing that you need more medication, more painkillers if you’re in a bad acoustics environment. We have research saying that hospital readmissions rates go up if you’re in a bad acoustics environment, so it’s too expensive to forget about…. I would say whether you want to refurbish it or not.

Cary: I think you’re right. But I would imagine that when the hospitals are built, they’re concerned with the hygiene aspect., And sometimes soft surfaces, which help absorb noise, may not work with hygiene. How do you get around that? You know, you can’t use the same panel you use in a restaurant.

Mai-Britt: Well actually restaurants today have also soft acoustic porous products that can also be cleaned today. It’s no excuse. We have panels that you can maybe not pour down to acid, but we have panels that you can disinfect every day with chloride. We have painted surfaces that you can wash daily. Also I’m talking about soft, porous products, made of glass wool that are classified as Class A acoustic absorbers. So there is no excuse today. And the thing is we have had these products for a very, very long time, but we have been strong to talk about this in the cleaning industry. We have products for clean rooms. So they can fit into all the facilities in hospitals. But we have maybe not been very good at bragging about how good we are in healthcare. So I think that the reason why the world doesn’t know about it is because how should you know if you don’t know?

Mai-Britt: Do you know what I mean? If no one has told you, yeah, this painted surface can actually withstand chloride — then you would never think it that it could. Because it looks like the painted surface you have in your office. So we have products that are exactly the same when you look at it. And one can withstand fat and protein and blood and all the liquids you want… And the other one cannot withstand more than a wet cloth. So if you don’t know what you don’t know it. So we need to, we need to do our job better, I guess.

Cary: Well that’s exactly why I invited you to talk with me today. Because I think you don’t know how to always reach people who are interested in the topic. Or who might listen and understand that there’s an option, there’s an alternative available.

Mai-Britt: I also think that one of the reasons why we are not all over the world already is that this is this a traditional business. And if you have a hospital that has a metal ceiling and it was built 40 years ago, then you think that that is the solution you have still. If you don’t know. I see a lot of countries who have, well you can sort of see their history in the ceilings of their hospitals because they don’t change. Because when you…I mean imagine if you should build a hospital. It’s such a complex place. It’s such a big city you have to build. Then you really want to, if possible, to look back. What did we do last time? What can we repeat here? And then you know the ceilings. Yeah, you can wash them. You can disinfect them. Let’s just reuse them. And if you don’t know much about acoustics — you cannot see sound, you cannot see acoustics. Then it’s easy to just repeat what you did last time. And it is as if when we work with sound, it is as if people will just, “the sound is bad. Well that’s just something you have to live with.”” That’s often what I hear. “Yeah. Well you get used to it.” Imagine to come into a hospital with no lights.

Cary: Maybe the workers do.

Mai-Britt: Well, the workers don’t. We also, unfortunately, we also have research showing that operation staff, they make more mistakes in a bad acoustics environment, so the workers don’t cope either. They have more hours of sick leave in a bad acoustic environment. So bad acoustics — well, you don’t cope very well. Maybe you think you cope, but your brain will get tired because of all the stimuli it gets. You don’t have to be affected by high sound pressure levels to get tired if there is constantly a buzz, if you’re constantly being triggered by an alarm or …while you’re on hard work. Also as a staff member, even though it’s just another day at the office. So no, you don’t get used to it. That’s not what I see in the research I read and what I’m part of.

Cary: I think if you had maybe a predictable sound, like at noon every week we’re going to have this noise go off. But you never know when it’s going to happen. And when it happens in the middle of the night. sure. Interesting. And so basically I think you’re right about the structure of hospitals. For example, I live in San Francisco, so in addition to all these other issues that they may be considering in architectural planning, they also have to factor in seismic retrofitting and seismic activity. So these are going to be the big focuses, you know: fire safety, egress, and so on.

Mai-Britt: And what annoys me the most is that acoustics …it’s not rocket science. Seriously. If you think about it from the beginning, you’re already halfway there. You can buy not the best products in the world and you will still do so much better than without. So yeah. Normally I’d say I don’t care what products are in the specifications from the architect, as long as he or she just put something in there.

Cary: I did a little research trying to figure out what are the current standards. And the World Health Organization did establish one. But apparently 150 years ago actually hospitals were quiet places. They were like libraries. And that there was this established kind of order — this is a place for healing and we keep our voices down and so on. Something changed over the years and maybe it was technology.

Mai-Britt: Yeah. You know, what changed? A lot of things actually changed. If we look, there is a study made by Ilene J. Busch-Vishniac, looking into hospitals– Johns Hopkins hospital. I don’t remember the name exactly, but she went through hospitals sound pressure levels, measurements from the 60s up until 2005. And what she learned was that there was a constant decrease in sound levels. And I think that the reason for this is that the buildings are the same as they were. But today we have more people in the same buildings. We have more technical equipment, we work around the clock. We are today able to heal more illnesses. We are on a medication level, we are on such high levels so people don’t die of what they used to do. So we have the same buildings as we had in the 60s, but we have totally changed the function of the building.

Mai-Britt: We have totally changed the activities in the building, so we have wider perspective of sound sources and a lot more sound sources than we used to have. So that is also what we hear. We can draw a parallel to schools. We have the same schools that we built in the sixties today, but today we don’t have the same way of teaching. And we don’t have the same way of learning. We don’t have the same pedagogy. So we have schools today that were built for teachers and monologues. Where we expect the kids to work in pairs and do project work and we want them to collaborate and so on. So I think that the reason for the hospitals being noisy or today’s …. Could be just that they were meant for something else, kind of activities we have today. Does it make sense?

Cary: Yeah. One of the specs I found — the data I found — the World Health Organization had established a 30 decibels with a maximum of 40 decibels for noise. But the average, I found that there was a study done by the University of Chicago where they found that the average was 48 decibels, but peak noise was 80 decibels, which is like really intolerable.

Mai-Britt: I love that the WHO stresses that low noise levels are important in hospitals. I’m not sure, though, that we would ever reach 30 decibels because that’s what I have in my bedroom, when I’m all by myself with my windows closed and not close to the microphone. I don’t think that would ever be possible. But I love that they stress it, that it is important. And when you talk about peak levels, we have a study from Sweden from an intensive care unit where the peak levels are from 88 decibels to 101. And we have an average in the same ward that is only 53 decibels. So the average sound levels are no problems, but we don’t react to average. We react to peaks. So what we try to communicate at Ecophon is that we need to focus on the peak sounds, can we change them? Do the alarms have to sound in the patient room? What about a beeper in the pocket of the nurse, or what about all the alarms sounding in a nurse station somewhere else? So we try also to participate in the organization of the alarms and the systems and so on.

Cary: So both controlling the noise sources and also trying to mitigate the impact of those noises when you can.

Mai-Britt: if we have the opportunity, if we are invited in there. This is also something that has to take off in the design phase and it’s really, really difficult for us as a manufacturer to be part of that process so early. But we ask the questions whenever we have the opportunities, even though I don’t know anything about alarm systems. But I can ask the questions because maybe that the people choosing what systems to have, they’re not aware of what will happen.

Cary: Yeah.

Mai-Britt: Again, it is such a complex thing and I need to say it again. The acoustic treatment, that’s the smallest part of it. Get that right from the beginning and then you can then you’re already down with five, 10 decibels and then you’re on a good path.

Cary: That’s true. So when you have an existing building–  let’s say, I don’t know, built in the 1960s, built earlier — and you’re maybe talking to someone about acoustic treatments. So what are some of the barriers to getting them to implement this? I assume obviously budget is one, but I mean are there people who think, well, you know, we just can’t…we don’t have the time to do this because this is a functioning hospital. There’s no time to do treatments, construction, you know…that sort of thing?

Mai-Britt: Yeah, that is a budget thing. Sometimes it also has to do with the local standards and the local guidelines. It is really, really difficult for us to be part of a process if there is no standard, no acoustic standard in the market. Because then people will say, “You know what? We have good standards in the country and we don’t have one for reverberation time of speech clarity in hospitals, so find someone else to talk to.” So it depends often on the market and it depends on how the healthcare structure is. Because if it is a private clinic, if it’s financed by a private building owner, then some can see that the benefits of having a top-notch hospital with good ventilation systems and awesome acoustics and really lovely food for the patients and some cannot. So, it’s really complex.

Mai-Britt: It’s about money. Often first when the people get the knowledge, everyone wants to do something about it, but if it is a refurbishment, if that is what it takes, then it’s of course it’s money. And sometime it’s really difficult also to do the refurbishment. Because you could have an old hospital that is a listed building and then it can be really difficult to do the right solution. Where I live in Copenhagen, we have beautiful old hospital buildings and in some of them it’s really, really difficult to do new modern acoustic solutions, because you are not allowed to. Because you cannot change the architecture. I’m not saying that I want to kill old architecture with good sound, but sometimes it’s even difficult to find a compromise. So I would say that the struggle we have is that if there is no acoustic standard locally, and the second is if it’s really difficult because of the architecture or because of the technical equipment. if it’s an operation theater with specific ventilation systems then it gets tricky, then it is not just a quick fix. But it all comes down to money.

Mai-Britt: Right? It does. And that’s why I really try to preach that. “Please think about acoustics before you make that building.” So afterwards it’s hard.

Cary: Yeah. But like you said, if you’re in an environment such as where you live, where the buildings are older, they’re probably not planning to build a new hospitals. And you’re working with what I actually think …very, very old architecture might be a little bit easier to work with than 1960s architecture because some of the things that they… the room shapes and ceiling height and materials were a little more sound-absorbing in some cases or at least the angles were different, you know.

Mai-Britt: Not enough. Well, luckily the last five, seven years in Denmark where I live, new hospitals, projects have stuff. And we now had, last year in 2018 we finally got at building regulation in regards to acoustics in hospitals. It is ridiculous because we had one for schools since 1989, I guess. But we…it’s just a symptom also that it has been really difficult to dig into the healthcare sector in regards to acoustics because it is a complex place to work. So it’s much easier for us to do a recommendation or a guideline for schools, obviously, or offices. So even here in Denmark, where we have had acoustic regulations for schools and public buildings since forever, we just had one for hospitals last year. So I see that same trend in many countries. But we are getting them.

Mai-Britt: And I was happy today because a good colleague of mine who is in our export department who’s working with a lot of countries in the world who don’t have their own business units. He asked me, do you maybe have an overview of acoustic standards in Europe for hospitals? And I could send him a nice table showing that yeah, we have now in Spain and Sweden and France and Finland and Germany, and yada yada, yada yada. So I was quite happy to send that table for my colleague so he could show it to his colleagues in Hungary, in Slovakia, in Croatia who don’t have it yet. So we also tried to spread these standards. They are not made by Ecophon. They are made by standards committees and they worked maybe 10 years to get a standard approved. It’s really, really reliable and you should follow it. So, we try to share also the good standards we have around the world. So that’s always where we start. What is the standard like? If there is no standard in the country, we try to work and try to fight hard for it because it’s good for the end users if there is a standard.

Cary: Right. That’s one of the questions I was going to ask you. Did you have any impact on policy-making through your work? And it sounds like you’re doing that, little by little.

Mai Britt: We really try. And I think that since Ecophon has this title “concept developers” who are not selling anything, I don’t even know the prices of our products. I could not sell you one tile. It’s impossible. I’m not part of the process. So we are often invited in to be members in these standard committees together with researchers and acousticans and engineers. So we can be part of the process of making a standard. In some countries, it’s not possible for manufacturers to be part of it. But once they get to learn what we do as concept developers, that we are not there to sell anything, we’re just there to promote good acoustics and we look into the values of the tiles, the acoustic tiles instead of the names. Then it’s hard work, but it is possible. So yes, we can influence the politics of tomorrow, but it takes a while.

Cary: Well it’s worth it though. I mean it sounds like you have made progress, at least in Europe you have. I don’t know about North America — where most of our hospitals are private hospitals, as well. And I don’t know whether or not there’s any motivation to adhere to a standard.

Mai-Britt: As far as I’m concerned, a lot of insurance companies in your country pay a lot of money for people in hospitals. Think about what they would save. They could see some data on how much money they could save on patients who could go home earlier because of a good acoustic environment or who spend less money on medication intake. And so I think that there is a market even in the private sector… For some.

Cary: Yes. And one of the things I was going to ask you… And I think really in talking to you, I realized that there’s probably no one answer to this. I had wondered what you tend to focus on. Like if you are in contact with the hospital, they’re having some issues, what would be the one thing if they have a limited budget that you would focus on? And I thought, would it be the corridors? Or something? But I have a feeling that it’s different in every situation. You can’t just say this is… just always do this one thing.

Mai-Britt: That’s a really, really difficult question also because hospitals, they don’t look the same. But we actually made a study in Sandwell in England some years ago where they were changing all the patient wards. So they used to have these cellular rooms for maybe six or eight patients. And they wanted to open up so the nurses could overlook the area better. And they chose actually only to put acoustic treatment in the corridors. So in the actual patient rooms that were more open space, they didn’t have any acoustic treatment. And even with just — I say a few tiles — it was the corridors that were acoustically refurbished. Even with that, they really, really made a big change. I think that what bothers you most when you’re a patient is sound that does not concern you. So sounds from the corridor, or from the patient room 60 meters down the corridor does not concern you.

Mai-Britt: And that would wake you up more than your neighbor just lying beside you. You get used to maybe his or her sounds and maybe you can even have conversations with him or her. That would not be as painful as something in a corridor. Maybe my answer would actually be corridors. And also if you have open space where the sound can propagate or if you have bigger patient rooms with…well sometimes — I don’t know what it looks like in your country — but if you have been through an operation in Denmark, if you’re not in the intensive care unit, you will wake up of anesthesia in a bigger room where there are several patients. I would think that in an area like that, I would prioritize that because the waking up of anesthesia, you’re not really yourself. You can have anxiety and then sound from other people could really be scary.

Cary: Yeah, so “recovery room” is… yeah…

Mai-Britt: And it also, again, it has to do what kind of ward is it? Is it an elderly care ward? Elderly people, they have hearing impairment and you need to talk to them. And if they cannot hear what you say, what do you do then? I say that if you don’t have money to do everything now, plan to do it the next 10 years. Start somewhere and work your way through. I would be hard on staff and say that, well 50% of the hospital might be offices. Wait with the offices because you’re at work, you are not out of your comfort zone. Yet still imagine to be a nurse, and you have maybe two or three breaks a day. And when you go to the staff room, that’s the most noisy place in the hospital and that’s where you have to relax for half an hour. Difficult, difficult.

Cary: What kind of results have you gotten from treating hospital acoustics and how do you measure them?

Mai-Britt: Well, I always try to work with two types of results. We do room acoustic measurements. And when we do room acoustic measurements, even though that here in Europe, we normally only have one acoustic descriptor in our guidelines — which is reverberation time — we measure several acoustic descriptors. We measure also something called “speech clarity” or speech transmission index, which gives you an indication or a clear picture of the quality of speech in a room. Often when you are in a hospital, well the older population are often in the hospital and they suffer from hearing impairment just because of age. So they struggle a lot with conversations. If the speech clarity or speech transmission index is really low. So we measure that. We also measure something called room gain, which tells us how much will the surfaces amplify the sound. This has to do with sound levels.

Mai-Britt: How much does the room itself contribute to the sound pressure levels? And then we also measure in open space we measure a sound propagation and a radius of comfort. How, what does it look like in an open space? If you have a small group of people, will their sound propagate and disturb other people or will the sound just die off quickly? So again, when we do room acoustic measurements, we look at the activity and the function of the room. And we look at who will the people be here and what is most important. Often we do all acoustic descriptives and then we just analyze the most relevant ones, but normally we analyze the duration, time, speech, clarity, sound propagation, and room gain. That is one part of the results I try to to learn about when we do room acoustic treatment. The other part, if it is a building in use, I try to do questionnaires or interviews so we have a broader picture of what does the end user think about it.

Mai-Britt: The optimum result for me would be to have room acoustic measurements and questionnaires and interviews before we do an acoustic treatment… and then afterwards. Right now I’m doing research with the technical university of Denmark in a dementia clinic. And we have been doing interviews with the staff and questionnaires with the staff to learn what are the problems, what are the issues. Then we have done an acoustic treatment. And now we have done the post test or the post interview to learn — so did we fulfill the task? What did we learn, and how do they feel now? So when we do an acoustic intervention or a treatment, we do acoustic measurements and we tried to do interviews. Sometimes the interviews and questionnaires, that’s the hard part. Sometimes it’s really difficult to get statements from end users, because it’s a hospital or a healthcare facility where it’s not possible.

Cary: Maybe just one more question. And that is when you work with a hospital, does the hospital come to Ecophon or do you visit hospitals. Or how do you end up working on a project?

Mai-Britt: Oh, that can be…

Cary: I mean, how did they find you? Do they know about you already?

Mai-Britt: Yeah. How do they find us? Well, we have sales staff in our local markets, but sometimes we also get contacted by people in a process. For instance, if I am a speaker at a conference. I just came home from Munich where I was a speaker at an elderly care conference. And in the audience, there were some architects and some building owners who talked to me afterwards and saying, “Oh, thank you for your presentation. We didn’t know about acoustics, but we’re doing this project. Could you please help us?” And when we get requests like that, it is my finest job to stay as neutral as possible. When I’m invited to the table in a building process, I try to talk about everything else but the products, I try to give away as much knowledge I have. I try to give away as much why we need acoustics as possible. And then when I leave the table, it’s up to the architect to choose what is best for him or her. Of course, I know most about what our products can do, but I really try to stay as neutral as possible so I can be invited in next time there is a conference. Nobody wants a speaker from a company who can only say, say, buy this product, buy this product.

Cary: Right. It’s not a sales conference.

Mai-Britt: No.

Cary: So, yeah, I wondered… I would imagine that most hospitals day by day aren’t sitting in their meetings saying, “what company can we call to help solve our noise problem?” It probably happens in a different way.

Mai-Britt: Well, I don’t think that hospitals actually do that. I don’t think that it suddenly them in, “Whoa, we need something done with the noise here.” Sometimes it’s the other way around and a nurse has been to a conference and learned about acoustics. Everyone is aware of that noise is a problem, but when you work in a hospital, you have other tasks to do. So I think that’s not what they talk about during their meetings, that the noise is too loud. We have to be out there, we have to be present at conferences. We have to be better at promoting what we do in a neutral way to make sure that tomorrow everyone in the whole world will discuss room acoustics when they have their dinner.

Cary: So for anyone who might be listening to this podcast or see my blog and information about this podcast episode, how would they contact Ecophon or start the process if they wanted to start addressing noise issues in their hospital or care facility?

Mai-Britt: We, we do exist in the United States but we don’t exist as an individual company. We are part of a company called CertainTeed ceilings in the U S and we are part of the big company Saint Gobain. So we have local people in the U.S., But if you are listening to this podcast and you have an issue in a hospital, if you have a concrete situation that you want help with, I am the one to contact because I also try to cover — well not only Europe — but of course I cannot fly over and be part of the building process. But then I have colleagues in U.S. who could help out. So if you have a concrete problem, if you have a hospital project that you want to help with, well try and contact me. I would be happy to help out.

Cary: That’s great. Thank you. And is there anything else you want to say before we conclude about your work or noise issues or anything?

Mai-Britt: I really have to stress that acoustics — well it’s possible to make sound better in healthcare, in hospitals, and it’s not rocket science. I really want to stress that. Think about it before you build your building because then you’re on your way. If you already have a building that is not working acoustically, you will save money if you prioritize a refurbishment. We see in studies all over the world that the investment you do, the investment you make, the money you put into acoustics, you will get them back. You will get them back because your staff will be more productive. You will get them back because patients will not stay as long. You will get them back because the medication intake will be lower. And I could continue on and on and on. And after all, if we think about it, a hospital, a healthcare facility is a place where people should heal and recover. So it is completely absurd that we create surroundings and we create space that do the opposite.

Cary: Yeah, I agree.

Mai-Britt: In my world, it’s not sustainable. We have not been talking about sustainability at all, but it’s not sustainable to build a hospital without thinking about the people who should be there.

Cary: I’d like to thank Mai-Britt Beldam for joining us today and sharing her knowledge. As she said, if you work in a healthcare facility and you want to talk about acoustics, you can contact her at Ecophon or through LinkedIn, or you can follow her on Twitter. I’ll also post links in the Soundproofist blog. And I’d really like to thank everyone at Ecophon. They’re super knowledgeable and a pleasure to talk with. Thanks for listening, and thanks for your emails and questions. I like hearing from you if there’s a topic you’d like to cover in another episode, just send me a note. And see you next time….

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How Mai-Britt got involved in acoustics
Impact of noise in hospitals
Importance of architectural design to hospital acoustics
Sound absorbing materials can withstand hospital liquids
Activities and noise level has changed over the years
Actual decibel levels in hospitals
What are some of the barriers to noise control in hospitals?
Regulations in hospitals (mostly EU)
Results of acoustic treatments & how they are measured
How do you get projects/how do healthcare facilities find you?