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Planning and Prioritizing: Sterile Processing Construction

Planning is the most critical step

If you have ever remodeled your home, or been a part of a construction project you know there is significant financial expenditures and the unexpected can happen more often times than not. It can be a scary thing when it’s your home, and even scarier in healthcare when faced with patients to care for. When planning a project that could be costly and possibly disruptive to your working environment and team, it’s absolutely essential to have an accurate plan in place to support that plan. By developing a strategic team that includes a diverse group of individuals such as physicians, infection preventionists, engineering and facilities management, governmental regulatory agencies and consultants that specialize in these types of projects will help it be a successful one. Choosing and involving the right team members will ultimately create a smooth and seamless project.

While subject matters experts can help to strengthen the planning process, it’s also helpful to have diverse thinker at the table to brainstorm ideas with those who are facilitating the project. The more support and assistance you have from each other the better the outcome. Creative thinkers can help to innovate the design, and won’t be afraid to challenge the safe layouts that might be in place, while the compliance professionals at the table will help to ensure the plan is in accordance to policies, procedures and following all the required standards. This multi-disciplinary team will need to work together and have a clear understanding of each person’s role within the project.


 Part of the planning should include some of the following;


  • Create a “Must Have” list and a “Wish List” to help prioritize purchases and budgetary constraints
  • Create a proposal for non-scheduled and scheduled interruptions, like steam outages and power failures to help determine plan of action
  • Incorporate future proofing to help predict the potential growth of the department, this will rely heavily on upper leadership and surgeons to clarify the volume potentials for the future
  • Determine what type of approach you will have for the construction itself, will you be phasing each step or will you be completing it all at once
  • Determine the amount of interruptions your staff and department can support without affecting patient care outcomes


Trusting your resources

It can be very difficult for end users, and clinicians to visualize every scenario when going through a vast project like an overhaul of the operating room or sterile processing. While all professionals can envision their “ideal state” of what they would like the outcome to be, it doesn’t always go as planned especially when spacing constraints are of concern. With so much innovation available in today’s healthcare world, it’s easy to become “a dreamer” when designing your new department, who wouldn’t want a design that is beautiful. It is vital to rely on the strengths and tools available from those helping to make the project a reality. Depending on the size and complexity, architectural firms, contractors and builders are the experts who will solicit the details about the proposed project, so start by building trust and understanding with these helpful resources.

Architects, planners and of course designers have a great deal of expertise in the building process, they also can provide useful resources to help clinicians and members of leadership, visualize the plans before actually starting the construction. Computer Aided Design (CAD) drawings can help the team visualize their new or renovated workspaces. A mock up can be created to help identify barriers, workflow design and varying layouts. During this process it is ideal to include staff members who are familiar with the area and work completed in the space, so they can shed light on their job requirements. Aligning the work that needs to be accomplished in the unit against the drawings and desired outcomes it absolutely necessary during this step. A variety of questions should be considered during this time, for example:


  • Is there space available for staff to move in a compliant manner, adhering to best practices?
  • Is there adequate space to incorporate storage solutions and necessary accessories to complete the duties?
  • Have safety requirements like eyewash stations and fire extinguishers been considered?
  • Where are the hand washing sinks being placed?
  • Are there appropriate changing areas and vestibules for entry/exit protocols?
  • What is the lighting requirements for each workable area and what lighting is going to be installed?
  • Can the space acclimate to growth potential, such as vendor trays, loaned items and future equipment?
  • What water requirements are necessary, drains and plumbing?
  • Are electrical components available to support all hardware and equipment being installed?


Operational and Workflow

Interruption of the daily operations is going to happen during any large construction project, what is important to understand in the beginning is to what level of interruption can the staff expect, and are the staff members prepared to handledthe changes? There must always be a safe pathway to continue a uni-directional workflow within the sterile processing department, and safe working pathways for employees to get from one point to another. Identifying these transitions early in the process will save much stress and headaches later. Having open communication with the entire support team is also critical so surgeons know what to expect if there are any delays and the operating room personnel can help to navigate these challenges. It should be all hands on deck when projects take place and not allowing the excitement to overcome reality.