Patient Safety Awareness Week isn’t just for medical staff. Everyone who works in a health care facility, from the receptionist to the CEO, knows that patient safety has to be woven into every department to be effective.

In fact, this issue was the focus of our 2015 trends report “The Front Lines of Patient Safety,” in which we addressed the many ways design and construction, environmental services, engineering and supply chain professionals help to create a safe environment. Last year, the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) formed an alliance with the Joint Commission to tackle this issue as well. Its Focus on Compliance initiative addresses the eight most frequently cited Joint Commission physical environment standards and provides tools to help health facilities achieve consistent compliance in these areas.

Chad E. Beebe, AIA, CHFM, CFPS, CBO, SASHE, deputy executive director of advocacy at ASHE, says facility professionals are using their unique expertise to help move the needle toward better patient safety.

“Many changes are driven by compliance with codes and regulations, which, for the most part, do foster a safe environment, but many health care personnel also realize the importance of going above and beyond that threshold,” he says.

Here are four ways health systems have used the physical environment to improve patient care.

Hospitals vow to reduce purchases of furniture with antimicrobials. At least five hospitals have signed up for the Safer Chemicals Challenge, an initiative of Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm. The health systems have taken a pledge that at least 30 percent of the annual volume of their furnishings and furniture purchases will not contain five chemicals and materials identified as potentially harmful by Practice Greenhealth.

Flint hospitals take action to protect water supply. In response to the Flint, Mich., water crisis, McLaren Flint says it has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to “implement additional processes to further safeguard and reinforce the quality of the water system at the hospital.” Those investments include spending more than $300,000 to purchase and install five monochloramine secondary disinfection water treatment systems to disinfect domestic hot water plumbing systems.

Kaiser Permanente invests in behavioral health clinic improvements. The health system announced it would invest $115 million to “remodel and refresh” nearly 80 of its mental health facilities. It also announced that it would build 10 new behavioral health clinics in California within the next three years.

Andrew Bertagnolli, senior manager for behavioral health at Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute, says the “new spaces are being designed to minimize stressors for patients, provide access to nature, and provide staff areas for respite and to recharge, which are so important to supporting our members’ total health.”

University Medical Center New Orleans designed for resiliency. The $1.1 billion, 2.3 million-square-foot University Medical Center New Orleans replaces the Charity Hospital destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Lead Designer Joe Sama, AIA, LEED AP, NBBJ, says that “from the beginning of the project, the client mandated disaster preparedness as a critical factor for the project’s success.” The hospital decided to place all mission-critical components on the second level, 22 feet above base flood level, to ensure that the hospital can continue operations during disaster. That includes patient rooms, the emergency department, the helipad, surgical suites, imaging departments, labs, triage rooms, decontamination facilities and behavioral health rooms.


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