The Shah file
- Corporate project and plant manager, and life safety officer, CarePoint Health in New Jersey
- President of Healthcare Facility Management Society of New Jersey (HFMSNJ), ASHE Region 2, Platinum Chapter of New Jersey
- Officer at large, New Jersey Society for Professional Engineers
- Certified Healthcare Facility Manager exam-setting committee member, American Hospital Association (AHA)
- Distinguished Engineering Service Award from the New Jersey Society of Professional Engineers, 2016
- Facilities Manager of the Year from HFMSNJ, 2013
- Emerging Leader of the Year from the AHA, 2002
- Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Sardar Patel University, V.V. Nagar, India
- Master’s degree in business administration — health care management, York (Pa.) College
Rajendra N. Shah, P.E., BSME, MBA, CHC, CHFM, FASHE, is winner of the 2017 ASHE Crystal Eagle Award for leadership, innovation and overall contribution to ASHE and/or health care engineering and facility management. He also is the corporate project and plant manager for CarePoint Health in New Jersey, and recently discussed his career choices and the challenges he sees ahead.
How did you become involved in the health care facilities management field and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE)?
After having graduated as a mechanical engineer, I started my career in the Indian Navy as a nuclear submarine design engineer and also worked in a large gear production shop. I began looking for a more challenging career that would give me a greater sense of accomplishment. So, I immigrated to America in 1982 and joined a company that specialized in hospital construction.
I learned that the health care industry has many stringent requirements and the opportunity to hone my skills was never-ending.
After spending 10 years working to build hospitals, I transitioned to building systems that keep hospitals working. In 1993, I took a job in hospital facilities management, a field that has taken me all over the country. Ever since, I have been rewarded with a sense of accomplishment while working alongside and networking with the best group of colleagues, most of whom read this magazine.
How has ASHE and your state ASHE chapter influenced your career?
In 1993, I was introduced to the Region 2 chapter in Pennsylvania. I was energized by the purpose and results of the work, so I immediately became a member of ASHE and jumped right in with multiple committees.
I learned that the application of codes and standards in the health care field varies and they are interpreted differently in various counties and states. So, to be better in my profession, I became active with ASHE, ASHRAE, the National Society of Professional Engineers and their local chapters, among other groups.
During the more than 23 years in ASHE, I have worked on many committees and serve on the Certified Healthcare Facility Manager (CHFM) and Certified Healthcare Constructor (CHC) exam-setting committees. I have been chair of the newsletter, membership and education committees and have served as president-elect and now president of the New Jersey Chapter — the Healthcare Facility Management Society of New Jersey.
All this volunteer work helped me in networking with peers, finding mentors I could rely on and coaching newer engineers.
Has your experience growing up in India influenced the way you have managed your career?
Though I worked for only a few years in India, my upbringing made me thirsty to work in a field in which one has to continuously learn, adapt and improve. I wanted to be successful because of my own achievements; and in growing up in India, I learned that success was not going to just come to me without chasing it. So, I chose a path of continuous learning and hard work that has been rewarding and fulfilling.
My wife and I came to this country — the land of opportunity — with only 14 dollars each but our parents gave us the wealth of an education, a positive attitude and values, and ethics of hard work. God has been gracious and we were able to raise our three children as medical doctors who embrace similar habits. We are proud of our children, our two sons-in-law, who are also medical doctors, and our siblings who have been on this journey with us.
One of your nominators quoted your catchphrase, “If it’s not in your heart, it’s not in your action.” Where did you learn that?
My father used that phrase to teach us effective working habits. My father was a role model for continuous hard work and always wanted to learn new things. I am glad that I followed my father’s advice. The lessons he taught us have formed the backbone of my work ethic. He would have been proud of this award and the accomplishments of all three of his sons, who are successful engineers.
What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the health facilities management field since you joined the profession?
The entire health care industry is evolving due to changes in medical technology, the workforce and insurance payments. It is difficult to find people who have the patience to acquire both the hard skills — efficient design and engineering, energy management, regulatory compliance, financial management and property management — and soft skills like communication, networking, advocacy and people management that are required to be effective in the health care facilities management field.
Already reduced funding for aging buildings, infrastructure and support staff is being further reduced to pay for aesthetics-improvement projects as hospitals compete to get more of the market share. A new look might bring new business, but older buildings cannot support a higher volume of patients, procedures and new medical equipment on the same outdated infrastructure.
Continuously changing codes and standards are difficult to keep up with, but it is a challenge I have particularly enjoyed. Low support for facilities staff education and reduced budgets make it more difficult to perform routine and preventive maintenance on more square footage, additional equipment and aging infrastructure. But we as a field are adapting to doing more with less.
How have your certifications, such as the CHC and CHFM, helped you?
Earning these certificates has helped me to improve in the five main fundamental areas of our facilities management business. I learned stringent codes and standards, construction methods for health care facilities, management of the environment of care, utility and energy-management skills with contingency planning, and financial budgeting responsibilities.
Renewal of these certificates requires continuing education and active involvement with ASHE nationally and in the local chapter, which is another way of staying abreast of continuous changes.
Finally, these certificate skills have helped me with opportunities for career advancement, including my personal goal of reaching the level of vice president.
Where do you see the health facilities profession going in the future?
The question of succession planning has been echoing in my mind. A career in health care engineering is a combination of education, skills and hands-on practice. This is a demanding career for self-motivated engineers or technically gifted people.
I am confident that once exposed to this field, individuals would love to learn more about large boilers, electrical generators, giant-sized air-handling units, fire pumps, air compressors, and codes and regulations that help to maintain a healing environment for patients.
Replacement for retiring health care facilities management staff is slow or has stopped. And that does not leave enough time to train the next caregivers. ASHE is more important than ever as we work to train the next generation.