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Derreck Kayongo (left), entrepreneur and founder of the Global Soap Project, meets AHE members after delivering AHE Exchange Conference keynote address.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Environmental services managers from across the country gathered today for the opening day of the Association for the Healthcare Environment’s Exchange Conference.

Gary Dolan, CHESP, and AHE board president, kicked off the general session with a firm declaration of the unique role environmental services departments play in health care. “We are environmental services,” Dolan says. “We have to be recognized as the authority in this space.”

Dolan highlighted AHE’s We Are Environmental Services campaign, which launched last year in an effort to differentiate between the complex and technical role of environmental services technicians and that of other cleaning professions, such as janitors and housekeeping. To date, 500 health care facilities have made the campaign pledge to refer to their staff as environmental services employees as opposed to other titles. AHE also developed a campaign toolkit with ideas and topics that leaders can use to start and expand the movement within their own organizations.

AHE Executive Director Patti Costello also spoke about how the organization plans to fulfill its mission to help hospitals achieve consistent, high-quality outcomes. Costello laid out AHE’s strategy map which consists of four pillars:

  • Be recognized as the authority on health care environments.
  • Build dynamic relationships and foster dialogue on emerging issues while promoting the role of industry partners in innovation and education.
  • Use succession planning to identify and support viable career paths, and provide forward-thiniking guidance and education.
  • Exchange knowledge by providing professional development opportunities based on best and evolving practices.

To ensure consistency in the health care environment, Costello told current environmental services directors: “You need to be seeking out the next you.”

Derreck Kayongo, entrepreneur and founder of the Global Soap Project, delivered the keynote address and discussed the power of simplicity and observation in effective leadership. He also highlighted the four factors of production: technology, land and resources, capital and labor. Of the four factors, Kayongo emphasized the role of labor.

“If labor is misused or abused, it’s hard to exploit the other three,” he says. “If you don’t take care of people and give them good health, it’s hard for them to be productive.”

AHE also highlighted the work of exceptional health care staff and leaders. Valerie Macey, environmental services attendant at The Medical Center at Franklin, was named this year’s Heart of Healthcare award winner, while Candace Thompson, director of environmental services at Mercy Health, was given this year’s Phoenix award.

Other highlights of Day 1 include plenary sessions on hot topics in health care, such as Environmental Hygiene for Ebola and Other Emerging Pathogens, Cost Reductions Through Operational Standardization, and Sustaining a Culture of Exceptional Front-line Experience.

Check out our coverage of Day 2.