The Winnie File
- Director, environmental services, Crothall Healthcare.
- Manager, environmental services, Aurora Health Care, Aurora Sinai Medical Center, Milwaukee.
- Director, environmental services, Sodexo Healthcare, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, Glendale, Wis.
- AHE president for 2020-2021.
- AHE at-large board member 2014-2019
- Certified Health Care Environmental Services Professional.
- Certificate of Mastery in Infection Prevention.
- Master of business administration, University of Phoenix.
- Bachelor of science in business finance, University of Phoenix.
Now into the second and final year of his term as president of the Association for the Health Care Environment (AHE), Brad Winnie, MBA, CHESP, environmental services (EVS) director at Crothall Healthcare, talks about how the pandemic affected EVS managers and informed AHE’s member services efforts.
What did you learn in your first year as AHE president, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic?
We always need more education and the ability to apply knowledge and expertise on the fly. This past year was filled with opportunities to add value to our organizations. Existing knowledge and education prepared us to do what we do every day but, as the pandemic unfolded, it took a lot of time and effort to learn and execute what we could to assist other members of the health care team. AHE provided updates and alerts that kept members on top of the many changes.
Not only did EVS expand its scope of responsibilities, but it was on the front lines of pandemic control and emergency management teams. Daily operations were turned upside down to meet almost daily changes in hospital directives. EVS professionals were in the position of not knowing what was coming next. I came to really appreciate AHE as the source of truth for EVS operations, especially when I needed information on the run.
The past 18 months validated that every EVS operation needs to be nimble and prepared with managers and supervisors thinking on their feet. Ongoing communication is critical based on individual circumstances, census and product availability — forcing leaders to improvise based on the latest science and guidance. We all need to be well-informed to facilitate confident decision-making steeped in fact and not opinion. Having AHE to quickly get the needed information was essential to EVS success.
The pandemic also forced EVS to the table to make and influence decisions. There were still a few disciplines that did not see the true value of EVS leadership, so it was and is gratifying to see it come full circle. Our teams were on those front lines just as any other team member in the hospital, and the concept of team became critical. A more positive perception of EVS certainly has been a favorable outcome.
In a broader sense, one of the biggest improvements is the public’s perception of what clean and safe means. All businesses, from schools to restaurants to aircraft, had to immediately provide an environment that replicated the health care standard of clean and safe, and AHE became a resource for them as well.
How has the pandemic affected AHE and its plans and programs?
Everything AHE delivered while in crisis was true to its core purpose: a commitment to pathogen-free healing environments across all care settings and the mission of advancing members’ abilities to establish and maintain care environments free of environmental surface contamination. Every bit of work AHE produced during the pandemic was developed by members and held true to AHE strategic imperatives, including:
- Develop and curate information and insight needed to be viewed as the expert in initiatives related to standards, education and advocacy for health care EVS.
- Deliver unmatched value for membership, greater than the investment of time and money.
- Focus on our body of knowledge as our primary asset and make it available to every health care EVS professional regardless of their place of practice.
We now know how quickly we can respond as an organization and deliver timely communication. AHE staff and members pulled together white papers, infographics and webinars, validating them with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to quickly deliver vital information. AHE also quickly redesigned its live Signature programs, pivoting to all-virtual by early July 2020. The demand for front-line EVS expertise and the certification to validate this expertise increased dramatically.
What initiatives or changes would you like to spearhead as you conclude your second and final term as AHE president?
While we all are exhausted and near burnout, there is much to do to keep the spotlight on the value of EVS. So, my parting months are about finishing what we started prior to the pandemic, keeping our finger on the pulse of the profession, and exploring new innovative opportunities and partnership prospects, particularly with the American Hospital Association (AHA) grant work with CDC for Project Firstline.
EVS professionals earned a seat at the table and need to keep it by not resting on past accomplishments. The next challenges are already looming and will slam the workforce — whether it’s burnout, stress-related illness, finding good help to replace those who don’t want a career in health care, or a surge of new COVID-19 strains. The future is now, and it’s critical that EVS leaders offer a path for existing and new personnel to demonstrate commitment to difference makers by providing ongoing education.
AHE will continue to share its body of knowledge to ensure the best remain on the EVS teams. Right now, we are all coming up for air, but we are ready. As an organization, we are seeing a 4% growth in membership this year, and the value of membership is clearly recognized by large health care systems and long-term care organizations seeking out group memberships and discounts on Signature programs.
What post-pandemic programs is AHE currently planning or discussing?
AHE continues to put effort into the Signature programs. As AHE transitioned into a virtual class environment, there was great interest in existing programs, but the desire for what’s next is always looming. The Certificate of Mastery in Infection Prevention program has had tremendous traction with demand for more; and the Certified Health Care Environmental Services Technician program has always had high participation and continues to enjoy success. As the pandemic winds down, AHE is pushing hard on professional certification and the recommendation that all EVS managers and directors carry AHA’s Certified Healthcare Environmental Services Professional credential to validate leadership and preparedness. As patients become more comfortable with elective surgeries, Certified Surgical Cleaning Training will be paramount to reducing variability in operating room cleaning. AHE will continue to push for health care leadership to seize the opportunities to train the trainers who will certify front-line staff and improve outcomes.
The new certificate for the non-acute side is also key as organizations push for off-site, non-acute care. The Certificate in Non-Acute Care Cleaning program was designed for anyone responsible for front-line employees cleaning non-acute care facilities, especially contracted cleaners. As more outpatient physician and surgical services are being utilized, the teams must be properly trained.
AHE’s newest educational endeavor is the reshaping of the Exchange conference. Offered Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 in Orlando, Fla., it will be called The Health Care Leadership and Preparedness Symposium. It will be filled with discussion-based educational seminars and innovative, strategic learning opportunities that will include what the profession has learned to best prepare for what’s next: a cyber, weather or mass casualty crisis. The exhibit hall will be focused on discussions about what is needed for the next event, where invocation is required and will be presented as an educational opportunity rather than a sales floor. This is one peer-to-peer program EVS professionals can’t afford to miss.
Mike Hrickiewicz is editor-in-chief of Health Facilities Management magazine.