The Leah Hummel File
- Senior associate director of advocacy at ASHE, Chicago.
- Associate director of engineering, Standards Interpretation Group, The Joint Commission (TJC), Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
- Life Safety Code surveyor, TJC.
- Plans reviewer/construction inspector, North Dakota Department of Health, Bismarck, N.D.
- Architect for Altru Health System, Grand Forks, N.D.
- Architect and intern architect, EAPC Architects Engineers, Grand Forks.
- Bachelor of Architecture, North Dakota State University.
- Bachelor of Science in environmental design, North Dakota State University.
- Certificate in Health Administration, University of North Dakota.
- American Institute of Architects.
- International Code Council.
- National Fire Protection Association.
- Certified Healthcare Facility Manager.
- Certified Healthcare Constructor.
- Past president of North Dakota Healthcare Engineering Society.
What drew you to the position of senior associate director of advocacy for ASHE?
I applied for this position because I saw it as an opportunity to make a bigger impact. I have seen first-hand the influence that ASHE has in the health care field. I have held a variety of roles all dedicated to improving the health care environment, including design, planning and construction, and enforcing codes and standards both at the state level and with an accrediting organization. Our work in health care facility engineering is greatly influenced by codes and standards, which exist for the safety of patients, staff and visitors in our facilities. I look at this position as an opportunity to further impact what those codes say, and to give back to the field.
What will be your responsibilities in your new position?
Together with the rest of the advocacy team, I will work on regulatory issues. I will serve on code committees such as with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Facility Guidelines Institute (FGI), International Code Council and ASHRAE to represent ASHE members in support of the work they do behind the scenes for patient care. I will communicate with members to learn about the issues that are affecting them, and how we can help them. I will continue to learn and share that knowledge with others.
How involved were you with ASHE prior to accepting your current job and what were your overall impressions of the group and its members?
I joined ASHE in 2006 when I first began working as a facilities architect for a health care system. New in my role, I had so many questions and needed guidance and resources. I was incredibly lucky to be part of a team that fostered continuous learning and development. I attended the PDC Summit, which was very relevant to my job duties.
Also, involvement in ASHE at the regional level was encouraged by my peers. The Region 6 conference was a great experience because it was attended by many of our team members, including designers, contractors, subcontractors and more. I think it helped to reinforce that we were all on the same mission — doing what was best for the patient. I loved learning from the ASHE faculty and speakers. Many of the challenges that we encountered, others had dealt with before, and I feel grateful that I was able to learn from their experiences.
What were your responsibilities at TJC and what lessons about hospital facilities management did you take away from that position?
I started out as an intermittent Life Safety Code surveyor, while working simultaneously as a health facility construction plans reviewer for the department of health in my home state. I surveyed hospitals, critical access hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers for compliance with the accreditation standards, primarily in life safety, environment of care and emergency management. I loved interacting with those in the field, getting to see a wide variety of facility types and seeing best practices.
I then joined TJC’s Standards Interpretation Group, where I reviewed survey reports, taught courses and webinars, and was responsible for answering questions from surveyors and accredited organizations on code compliance. In this position, I really learned how important the exact wording of the code is, because decisions can come down to a single word and how it is defined sometimes.
Compliance is a big piece of facilities management and it’s important that facilities dedicate the resources needed to get it right. Understanding the relationship between the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the accrediting organizations has also been very helpful.
Did your experience as a state authority having jurisdiction open your eyes to any issues you didn’t consider when you were working in a design firm?
While doing plans review, I had to dig deep into the FGI Guidelines; NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®; NFPA 99, Health Care Facilities Code (including all the referenced publications); and the ASHRAE ventilation standards, going line by line as I evaluated the construction documents to see if they were compliant. This was a great way to learn the code.
Previously, I had been focused on the architectural aspects of a facility, leaving the utilities to the engineers. But, with plans review, I had to learn and apply all of it, whether it fell under the category of architecture or engineering. I really gained a better sense of how it all works together, whether it be life safety features, essential electrical systems, medical gas systems, plumbing or ventilation to keep patients and other occupants of the health care facility safe.
What projects were you involved in during your time as a practicing architect and did anything there lead you to become more involved in codes issues?
My first job out of college was for a design firm that worked on a wide variety of construction types, including commercial, multifamily residential, education, hospitality, industrial, and of course health care. I was lucky enough to get some experience working in all different sectors. I was a self-proclaimed “code junkie” from the very start of my career, doing the research on what was required and what was allowed, etc. It was there that I was first introduced to the International Building Code and the FGI Guidelines for Design and Construction of Health Care Facilities. In some ways, codes can be limiting. But I found them super helpful as a guide to lead you to the best solution for your client.
Why did you decide to move to focus on health care projects?
In 2005, my twin sons were born three months premature and had to spend the first three months of their lives in a neonatal intensive care unit in a city that was about 75 miles from home. I spent all day, every day there with them until they could come home. Previously, I had worked on lots of different project types but, from that point forward, I only wanted to work in health care. People who work in health care are dedicated to serving others and I wanted to help others the way we had been helped. I have tremendous appreciation for all the work that goes on behind the scenes in support of patients and those who work directly with patients.
What message would you like to give to ASHE members as you settle into your new job?
Thank you for the work that you all do to care for others. At the end of the day, everything we do is for the patient. I’m very excited to be part of the ASHE team. If we, especially those of us who work in advocacy, can do anything to help you in support of that mission, please let us know; we are here to support our members. If there is education that you think would be helpful, issues you would like us to advocate on your behalf for, or messages you would like us to help get out, we’d love to hear from you.