The Toppel File
- Regional manager for environmental services at OSF HealthCare, Peoria, Ill.
- Director of support services at OSF HealthCare Saint James, Pontiac, Ill.
- Association for the Health Care Environment (AHE) board president
- Certified Health Care Environmental Services Professional
- Master trainer and curriculum development for Certified Health Care Environmental Services Technician program
- AHE subject matter expert
- Certificate of Mastery in Infection Prevention for Environmental Services Professionals
Now in her second year as president of the Association for the Health Care Environment (AHE), Pam Toppel, CHESP, MT-CHEST, T-CSCT, manager of environmental services (EVS) for the eastern region at OSF Healthcare, Peoria, Ill., discusses AHE, the state of the EVS profession and the challenges ahead.
What have you learned about AHE during your tenure as its president?
It is with great honor and humility that I was elected by my AHE board peers to serve the members and the profession. I wouldn’t necessarily say two years have taught me more about the organization because I have been involved for a long time before becoming president; I would say the experience has validated and strengthened the belief in the vision and core purpose of AHE the longer I serve.
AHE is, in fact, the recognized authority as it relates to providing a strong programmatic response to environmental hygiene specific to all health care settings; anything less is, well, not on par with delivering high-quality care and experiences for the populations we serve. AHE delivers the critical resources members need to be successful leaders and have a positive impact on patient experience and outcomes, as well as training and education to ensure success for professionally trained and passionate front-line employees.
It is not only about providing education for EVS leaders; it is about the value the entire profession delivers as a critical part of the larger health care experience and the strong relationships with the entire care team and service providers.
The AHE board is a strategically focused team, meaning every decision is not only aligned to the needs of AHE members but also to the needs of American Hospital Association (AHA) institutional members. They have been an amazing team to work with these past few years. I can honestly say they have all members’ needs and best interests at the forefront of decision making. They continue to scan what uncertainty lies ahead and what the needs are to be proactive in making sure we are able to provide much-needed direction to the profession.
The AHE executive director and staff are just as passionate about the EVS profession and are delivering innovative, cutting-edge education, front-line certifications and high-caliber resources. The staff team are advocates, a strong voice, and partners who help the board and the strategic action teams prepare to successfully navigate through the changes yet to come.
Likewise, what have you learned about AHE members over the past year?
The members are just like me. I am first and foremost an AHE member. I face the same challenges, concerns and fears as the members. AHE members are resilient, humble leaders with huge hearts. To be an EVS professional is a calling. The members want to provide service excellence and strive to deliver even with the daily challenges. Like any health care profession, our patients and staff are our No. 1 priority.
What major challenges have EVS departments been facing during your tenure?
The uncertainty regarding the future of health care is a challenge in itself. The shift to care delivery outside the acute care setting has been on the horizon for a few years now, and we are starting to see more of that impact.
EVS leaders have been given additional responsibilities to include off-site care centers and related facilities with little to no additional resources. While this shift is occurring, many EVS leaders are still maintaining services on the acute care side, which are at high census, at or near potential diversions, and with hours of wait times to room a patient from the emergency department.
I am a firm believer that we need to be active participants with the ability to scale and shift our current care model to suit the care environment needed — whether it be ambulatory surgery, home care, specialty care or medical office buildings — or risk being replaced or obsolete. It’s the difference between leading toward value and innovation, and managing the familiar.
How is AHE helping leaders and front-line technicians to face these challenges?
AHE is well positioned to help EVS leaders bring value to their organizations by providing the tools and resources needed to help build or enhance skill sets. AHE’s partnership with The Ohio State University (OSU) in creating the first academic certificate in health care environmental services within a hospitality management program is one way. The OSU curriculum is meant to attract young, innovative hospitality professionals to health care while offering an educational opportunity for the existing health care EVS professional lacking a degree or experience.
The Certified Health Care Environmental Services Technician (CHEST) and Certified Surgical Cleaning Technician (CSCT) train the trainer programs provide a consistent standard toward competent, engaged front-line technicians. For the first time, EVS technicians are afforded the opportunity to obtain professional certifications and be recognized as a member of the care team. Four years ago, EVS technicians were trained but not to a national role delineation standard. Those two programs alone have been game changers for employee engagement and retention, not to mention patient experience. AHE is now collecting data to demonstrate how these programs are changing how other health care professionals view the work of the front-line personnel.
As AHE members, EVS leaders also have access to a specific portfolio of rich educational content free with memberships as well as a professional certification through the Certified Health Care Environmental Services Professional (CHESP) designation.
The Strategic Leadership Series certificate programs such as Value-based Product Evaluation and Implementation as well the Certificate of Mastery in Infection Prevention are the gems in the Signature Series of educational programming.
AHE has also provided some outstanding evidence-based publications such as Staffing Methodologies and Standards for Healthcare Environmental Services Departments and Practice Guidance for Healthcare Environmental Cleaning, just to name a few.
Last but not least, AHE’s annual Exchange conference offers education and networked learning for all levels of expertise from novice to tenured.
What career advice would you give to EVS professionals?
To be an asset to a health care organization, the EVS leader has to think strategically and be innovative about the business model of the future.
Becoming an AHE member is the single most important step in advancing your career and enhancing your skill set. Network with your peers across the country on MyAHE, which can be accessed through AHE’s website at www.ahe.org.
Demonstrating competency and credibility as a CHESP is vital to professional growth. You also should utilize AHE member-only complementary educational opportunities to leverage the power of your team by building their knowledge and credibility, empowering them by educating and providing certification opportunities with CHEST and CSCT.
Let your passion drive you, and always show up to be a voice at the table, invited or not. Collaborate with other EVS leaders as well as the leaders throughout your system. Articulate and demonstrate the value of your leadership and the value that EVS brings to your facility, the patient experience and, most importantly, patient outcomes. Be nimble, quick, a change agent and always be ready to turn the ship on a moment’s notice.