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Maintaining a career in health care facility management requires constant adaptation.
The field is expanding, there is always new technology to learn, and facility managers must stay abreast of new regulatory and economic developments to succeed.
The road ahead
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has created many shifts in the health care field, including hospital consolidation. Groups of hospitals being operated by a single organization often change the way facility management is performed.
Peter Martin, a partner at the facility management consulting group Gosselin Associates, Mystic, Conn., says some of the changes are causing hospitals to wait for the dust to settle to make any major adjustments.
“When we’re out with hospitals during recruitment, the people there are sometimes uneasy because they’re unsure what the future holds,” Martin says.
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The ACA also has created more demand for outpatient environments and other types of smaller health care buildings.
For young people, this trend can be advantageous. Because there are more opportunities, there are more roles that require applicants with little — or even no — hands-on experience.
Mike Canales, director of the health care facilities leadership program at Owensboro (Ky.) Community & Technical College, says this is a great opportunity for people to run a small wellness center, for example, with lots of guidance from experienced mentors. The job can provide the experience needed to eventually earn a job at a more complex facility.
Improving soft skills
Some of the changes in the health facility management profession mean that facility professionals will need more hard skills, such as knowledge of codes and standards or technical abilities. Other changes will affect their soft skills.
Jack Gosselin, founder of Gosselin Associates, feels that health care facility managers should learn to be focused on hospitality and improving the patient experience.
“The customer experience is not just how well you heal a patient, but also how comfortable the patient is and how clean the room is,” Gosselin says. “You really have to go in with a hotel mentality to understand the hospitality [needed] to run a hospital these days.”
Martin agrees, noting that facility managers can make a patient’s stay even more comfortable by having a real presence in the hospital.
“It can be as simple as changing your basic body language to be more open to people, or taking 30 seconds to tell people who you are and what you will be doing while you’re in the room,” he says. “You just want to build a fundamental trust and, in a way, be the face of the hospital.”
A lot of unsuccessful facility managers get lost in their offices, Martin and Gosselin say, meaning they don’t take the time to go out and walk the building to get in touch with people. If they don’t get out of their offices, they ask, how can facility managers truly know the needs of their building and the organization?
Communication is a necessary skill that many people lack, Gosselin says. And for facility managers, it is a skill crucial for working with both patients and administrators. To improve this skill, Gosselin wants health facilities professionals to think about marketing themselves better as people, instead of just engineers or facility managers.
“We’re dealing with a group of people with a strong design and engineering background, and they don’t always know how to speak to people,” Gosselin says. “If you’re talking to a boardroom filled with people from whom you need money or resources, it’s much better if you’re easily understood. Tell them what you need in a direct and uncomplicated way, and speak from your gut.”
Working under pressure
The health care facilities leadership program at Owensboro, which is offered online, has 58 people enrolled and another 110 applications waiting for next year. Canales, program director, has a promise for every student who signs up: “I’m going to work them hard.”
Tests and written assignments are under strict time-driven deadlines. Canales says some students protest the tight deadlines, arguing that there are not stopwatch-type deadlines in the real world. Canales explains to students the importance of time management and juggling multiple projects at once.
“They need to know the material they are learning. And if they don’t know the material, they need to know where they can find it quickly,” according to Canales. “They are always going to have several high-pressure projects thrown at them at the same time and they need to know how to prioritize. That’s when the time-limit tests really show their value.”
Martin could not agree more. In today’s rapidly changing health care climate, he says, health care facility managers are being asked to move quickly on a variety of projects.
“People are more impatient these days. If you ask for a time table of five months for a project, you’re going to be asked to do it in three,” Martin says. “That’s just how it is now.”
Expanding strategic skills
Thinking strategically about both long-term and short-term projects is an important skill for facility managers. It’s especially critical when managing infrastructure projects that could cost millions of dollars.
In every case, Martin advises facility managers to ask themselves: What are the immediate and extended variables I need to consider before green-lighting any project?
Consider the example of a new roof on a hospital.
“If you’re asked to build a new roof, you not only need to consider the cost of the roof, but also while you’re building a new roof, would it make sense to add another floor? And if you’re building another floor, you have to think about where the rooms are going to be placed,” Martin says.
“It’s all this work and a ton of money, and it can all go to waste if the building is 100 years old and you’re going to have to knock it down and put up a new one in 10 years anyway,” he adds. “That’s why strategic planning is so important.”
Steps for success
Health facilities managers must take advantage of available resources to develop these career skills. In addition to the leadership noted previously, facility managers can develop their careers through the following outlets:
Getting involved. Becoming an American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) member — and a member of a local ASHE affiliated chapter — can also help a facility manager’s career by providing networking opportunities at both a local and national level. Annual conferences like the International Summit & Exhibition on Health Facility Planning, Design & Construction (PDC Summit) and the ASHE Annual Conference and Exhibition offer unique networking opportunities. ASHE member benefits, including the member directory and the ASHE Listserv, also offer ways to stay connected with others in the field.
If a facility manager is already an ASHE member and wants to become more involved in the organization, he or she should consider volunteering, submitting an article for publication or submitting a presentation abstract for one of ASHE’s conferences.
ASHE volunteers often comment that the work they have done as volunteers has been among the most rewarding experiences of their careers. Volunteering leads to networking, knowledge-sharing, and opportunities to improve the health care physical environment. Facility managers can submit applications to volunteer at www.ashe.org/volunteer.
Facility managers also can submit articles to ASHE for potential publication at www.ashe.org/publish. Or consider submitting an abstract for a conference presentation during the call for abstracts period by watching the ASHE Insider e-newsletter or www.ashe.org for announcements regarding those deadlines.
Degree programs. Although some longtime facility managers may not have college degrees, Canales says additional education is almost required for anyone entering the field now, and is highly recommended for anyone currently in the field. The Owensboro program that Canales runs is offered online, so working professionals can earn a degree without having to leave their jobs.
“A lot of facility directors are maturing and moving on,” Canales says. “There is no succession plan, so the people who are filling these retiring directors’ shoes need to get a degree. It’s forcing folks to do more resume-driven things.”
Continuing education. Facility managers and aspiring facility managers can attend continuing education programs to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the field or to learn new skills. ASHE offers a variety of programs for facility managers and a complete calendar can be found at www.ashe.org/learn.
ASHE is also beginning to offer educational programs at organizations around the country. This allows organizations that meet certain requirements to bring training on-site, reducing travel costs and meeting specific training needs of the organization.
Certifications. Earning a Certified Healthcare Constructor (CHC) or Certified Healthcare Facility Manager (CHFM) designation is another way to stand out in the field. Earning these credentials also has the potential to increase your earning potential.
On average, facility managers with the CHFM credential earn about $22,000 more than those without the credential, according to the latest salary survey information from Health Facilities Management and ASHE.
The CHFM and CHC programs have three components: eligibility requirements that blend education and experience, a certification exam and a renewal requirement. For more information, visit www.aha.org/certifcenter.
Senior and fellow status. Applying for ASHE senior (SASHE) or fellow (FASHE) status also can boost a resume. The prestigious designations are given to those who have emerged as leaders in the field of health care facility management. Both FASHE and SASHE recipients must contribute to the field through articles, research or presentations. More information about these programs is available at www.ashe.org/about/designations.
Era of change
Health care organizations are entering an era of great change. Facility professionals can thrive during this change by using available resources to sharpen their skills. HFM
Marc Filippino, a freelance writer based in Chicago, submitted this article under contract to the American Society for Healthcare Engineering.
Preparing young professionals for the field
Attracting young people to the field of health care facility management is increasingly important as many senior leaders prepare to retire.
A 2012 salary survey by Health Facilities Management and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) found that 40 percent of managers were older than 55 — an increase from 35 percent in the 2009 survey. As this aging workforce enters retirement and others take their places, there will be a greater need for young professionals to enter the field.
Developing the next generation of health care facility professionals involves several steps: exposing young people to the field, ensuring that college students get the knowledge they need, and providing real-world experiences that will help them land a job. On-the-job experience is invaluable to developing facility managers.
“There isn’t a facility manager you’ll talk to who came into the job who had any idea of the scope or scale of what they were getting into,” says Mike Canales, director of the health care facilities leadership program at Owensboro (Ky.) Community & Technical College. “They learned by handling the task that would kill them next.”
Canales recommends that younger students get an apprenticeship or internship either while they are in school or soon after they earn their degrees.
ASHE’s internship program is one way for students to get hands-on experience. The program pairs students with host hospitals and other health care organizations, where they work on day-to-day assignments and get training through ASHE’s “Managing Life Safety” and “Fundamentals of Health Care Facility Management” programs.
The internship program is offered to juniors and seniors in an undergraduate program or to graduate students at all levels for 12 to 15 weeks. Engineering, facility management, construction management, safety management, energy management and operations majors are strongly encouraged to apply.
Host hospitals also benefit from the program. It can be a way to recruit highly talented students who may take on permanent positions at the hospital in the future. The internship program is available to health care organizations that employ members of ASHE.
ASHE supplies resources to host organizations and helps with interviews, but host organizations conduct their own final interviews and select their desired candidates. An ASHE member will serve as a student’s mentor/manager and serve as a primary resource for an intern.
Information for hospitals that are interested in hosting interns, as well as information for students interested in the program, is available at www.ashe.org/internship.