The Association for the Health Care Environment’s (AHE) 2018 EXCHANGE Conference kicked off yesterday morning with inspirational messages from Pam Toppel, CHESP, T-CHEST, president of AHE, and Patti Costello, AHE executive director. The two addressed hundreds of environmental services (ES) professionals, urging them to “show up” every day as the recognized authorities in their fields.

“It’s about business,” Costello said, as she encouraged attendees to think critically about ways to improve the health care environment. “Critical thinking is the most important road to success.”

Toppel focused on creating a culture of consistency and excellence in health care ES departments.

“When we show up together as a profession we can create change, affecting quality of care and outcomes,” Toppel said.

Bruce Wilkinson, CEO and Chief Culture Officer of Workplace Consultants Inc. delivered this morning’s keynote. Wilkinson’s message centered on how leadership can affect staff behavior.

Wilkinson encouraged attendees to think beyond products and processes and prepare their workforce for the future of health care. “In this profession, we are all in the people business,” Wilkinson said. “Managers say ‘Go.’ Leaders say ‘Let’s go. Follow me.’”

Following this morning’s general session were several breakout Learning Labs. Lisa Sanders, infection preventionist at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital in Illinois led a session on hospital re-occupancy following a natural disaster. Sanders recounted flooding that occurred in the hospital’s community in July 2017 and the circumstances that forced it to evacuate all of its patients.

In the days after the evacuation, Sanders says the real work took place to ensure a safe environment and reopen the hospital to patients. The hospital formed a multidisciplinary team, which in turn created a list of critical components needed to reopen the hospital: safe patient care areas, safe operating room environment, functioning pharmacy and the ability to feed patients and staff.

Work to get the hospital up and running included a deep cleaning of the entire hospital, tearing out and replacing drywall affected by the flooding, throwing out and replacing furniture that was submerged in water, repairing and disinfecting its HVAC system, and large-scale mold remediation done by a specialized company.

Sanders maintained that although many hospitals may not experience such flooding, it’s important for environmental services leaders to be prepared and play a role in the emergency preparedness planning for their hospitals.

“Start a file (that you hopefully will never need) that contains resources you can reference if this ever happens to you,” she said.

Another breakout session tackled the issue of who cleans what in health care facilities.

Leaders from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Sara Townsend, MSHQS, CIC, infection prevention supervisor, department of infection prevention and control, and Nicole Seon, operations manager, safety, Q/A systems and development, detailed their multiyear study and initiative on defining ownership of cleaning and disinfection responsibilities within their health system.

Townsend and Seon noted that there was often confusion between environmental services and nursing staff on which group was responsible for certain cleaning tasks. A survey taken by nearly 400 staff proved it.

After the survey was completed, they then created a list detailing which groups should be responsible for certain tasks based on the survey results and feedback from the two departments. It was then time to educate staff through training, checklists and visualizations that provided easy reminders on the various roles of staff.

The initiative was successful. A secondary survey after implementation of the recommendations showed that understanding on which group was responsible for a particular cleaning task increased from 40 percent to 83 percent. Cleaning quality increased as well, and the system is now planning for a larger rollout of the initiative to more areas in the hospital.

Check out coverage from Day 2 and Day 3 of the AHE EXCHANGE Conference.