Facilities professionals seeking to move up in the field shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions about various aspects of operations.

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Health care facilities management is a complex field that plays a critical role in ensuring the proper operations of hospitals all over the United States.

A career in health care facilities requires extensive knowledge, critical thinking and, most of all, desire. 

Key factors of success in health care facilities management and ways to make a positive impact on the physical environment are discussed below.

Starting with desire

How can one achieve success in health care facilities management? It starts with an innate desire to want to grow and make a difference. Not everyone wants to climb the organizational ladder or is interested in enacting change, but those who are interested have access to more resources than ever before.

Facilities professionals who master the components of career development will contribute to the operational efficiency of their hospitals and the overall well-being of patients and staff. In navigating the complexities of health care facilities management, professionals can strive to create environments that promote healing, safety and innovation. The components of successful career development include:

Getting involved. Facilities professionals should let their leadership teams and colleagues know they want to grow and move up in the field. They should show they are willing to do just about anything to make it happen. Most professionals are not given a leadership role to show how they can perform; they usually must prove they are the best person for the role. This can be difficult and may take time, but professionals shouldn’t give up if they have the desire to advance.

For example, if a facilities professional is an entry level maintenance technician who wants to learn more about the electrical system, they should take advantage of free time and work alongside the electrician. They should ask questions and inquire whether they can provide help.

Similar concepts apply to other skilled trades in the facilities department. Professionals don’t have to become an expert at each trade, but they need to get a good understanding of them.

When the boilers are down for inspection, facilities professionals should ask why inspection is so important and what is being examined. If possible, they should assist in opening and closing the boilers. When generators are being tested and inspected, professionals should try to be present to learn from the person conducting the process. The more they ask, the more they will learn.

Facilities professionals should also get involved with organizations in the field such as the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE). When a professional becomes a member of ASHE, they gain access to experts in every area of the health care physical environment. These colleagues want to help, and they love to share experiences and educate. Additionally, state chapters can provide access to local experts who have studied licensing regulations and solved problems that involve various state laws.

Professionals should also ask their leadership team to teach them how they manage the department. The more a professional can learn about every aspect of the department, the more successful they will be in attaining progressive growth in the health care facilities field.

Taking advantage of education. A successful facilities professional will also take advantage of free education. ASHE offers numerous free learning opportunities throughout the year, but they are not the only organization to do so. Most equipment vendors offer free education, especially if they are under contract with a facility. Vendor opportunities range from ice machine maintenance to properly handling hazardous waste, and more.

Most fire alarm companies will provide free education on the fire alarm system. Medical gas service companies are usually happy to provide education on the medical gas system and medical gas regulations. Even a hospital accreditation organization may offer free education. 

Additionally, there are many free offerings on the internet, usually including several free educational opportunities from the Federal Emergency Management Agency every year. Facilities professionals will be surprised at the choices that are available.

Many hospitals also offer education reimbursement to their employees. This is a great way to obtain an advanced degree while working at a current position. However, facilities professionals should understand the details of accepting education reimbursement because they may be required to stay with their current organization for a specific amount of time and they may have to maintain a certain grade-point average to stay in the program. 

Finally, facilities professionals should also remember that the physical environment is not just hospital facilities but also environmental services, safety and security, construction, design and development, emergency management, medical equipment management, life safety, hazardous materials and utilities management. 

The more they can learn in all these areas, the more they will build their career and the bigger impact they will have on the physical environment.

Developing communication skills. Clear and effective communication is the key to success in health care facilities management. Facilities professionals must clearly communicate with staff, C-suite executives, contractors, vendors and other interested parties. Clear reporting activities and collaborative problem-solving will help build trust and foster accountability.

Successful health facilities professionals understand and respect the importance of building a strong team. By providing a collaborative approach to the facilities staff, professionals can inspire teamwork, promote change and encourage staff to excel.

Being a strong facilities leader includes, but is not limited to, motivating the team, making informed decisions and establishing and meeting goals.

Developing regulatory expertise. Mastering regulatory compliance in the health care facilities management field can be difficult, confusing and time consuming. However, the foundation for success in health care facilities management lies in a thorough understanding and mastery of regulatory compliance.

Health care facilities are subject to a myriad of regulations and standards, from building codes to health care-specific guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association and others. Facilities professionals must stay abreast of the latest updates, ensuring that their facilities meet and even exceed these requirements.

Regular audits, self-assessments and collaboration with regulatory agencies can help maintain a high standard of compliance, safeguarding the facility and its occupants.

Developing safety and security expertise. Ensuring the physical safety and security of patients, staff and visitors has always been a top priority in health care. 

Effective safety management plans, emergency management plans and security management plans are critical. Performing emergency drills, putting together effective security vulnerability assessments and having a complete hazard vulnerability analysis will help keep the hospital prepared when unfavorable events occur. Collaboration with law enforcement, first responders and others in the community will ensure that the plans and policies are detailed and effective.

Moreover, as more thought is put into cybersecurity and how the hospital protects its digital information, it has become part of the facilities professional’s role too.

Operating sustainably. Establishing effective policies and procedures can be an ongoing challenge in hospitals today. At a time when increased environmental awareness is pretty much a requirement, health care facilities professionals are increasingly focusing on maintaining a stable environment. Facilities professionals now have more options to build a sustainable environment and can better focus on reducing costs.

Planning for the future. Professionals should also be strategic when future-proofing their hospitals. This involves planning for the foreseeable future, implementing processes that are strong and support the functions of the hospital, and adapting to rapidly changing technology. Updating the hospital’s aging infrastructure, investing in newer technology and improving the organization’s maintenance processes can help a facility stay ahead of the game.

Adopting new technology for efficiency can prove beneficial. Technology plays a critical part of health care facilities management. Computerized maintenance management systems, tracking tools and auto-testing technologies are just a few examples of how technology can streamline operations. Health care facilities professionals should learn about changing technology and how it affects the hospital’s physical environment.

Continuously improving. Encouraging a culture of continuous improvement can be challenging but rewarding. Regularly reviewing and updating policies and processes, obtaining feedback from stakeholders and conducting routine assessments can identify areas for improvement.

A multifaceted approach

Building a career in health care facilities management is not easy, but every professional who desires can seek opportunities to make it happen. Professionals should plan their careers, know how they want to apply themselves and capitalize on their interests. Most importantly, they should know their own “why” and figure out how they will get to it. 

Once facilities professionals reach their goal, they should always be thinking of their succession plan. Succession planning in health care is not as much of a priority as it should be. It goes beyond identifying a successor. Professionals also must work with the successors and make sure they have the tools and knowledge to step into the role should the need arise.

A career in health care facilities management is rewarding, and professionals see the results of their actions almost instantly. It is a career that they can be proud of and one that is sustainable in almost any economy. The opportunities are endless, and the sky is the limit.

Moving from facilities professional to accreditation organization executive

As a former health care facilities manager and current president and CEO of DNV Healthcare USA Inc. in Milford, Ohio, my career arc was built on many of the skills I discuss in the accompanying article.

I started my career in health care facilities management in the early 1990s, spending the greater part of a year changing lightbulbs, adjusting thermostats and changing air handler filters along with other general maintenance duties. After about a year, I asked my manager if I could learn how to do other, more technical repairs and maintenance tasks. It wasn’t long before I was promoted to a senior maintenance technician.

I accepted every learning opportunity I was offered, often staying after hours and spending time off the clock to learn from the second-shift crew. I even went beyond the maintenance technician boundary and would pay close attention to contractors as they were servicing emergency generators, cooling towers and other hospital equipment.

I eventually got more involved with design, construction and renovations; real estate acquisitions; contract negotiations; and the regulatory and accreditation side of the field. Taking advantage of the assistance from the people who mentored me, I learned how to not just manage a larger department with more responsibilities but, more importantly, also began to focus on how I could impact the field.

I accepted a job as a facilities director at an acute care hospital north of Atlanta. While working there, I strategically began to plan out a path for building my career and becoming a leader in the field. I was confident I could use my passion and skills to enact positive change and to improve patient outcomes by making the hospital physical environment safer.

Eventually, I started work as a physical environment surveyor for DNV. I knew that my vision for a better health care environment was in alignment with DNV’s programs. I worked in numerous positions in the operations division at DNV over the next 12 years.

In April 2022, I was promoted to president and CEO, where I could achieve my ultimate goal of placing myself in front of key decision-makers in the field and explaining to them the importance of health care facilities management. 

About this article

This is one of a series of articles contributed to Health Facilities Management by DNV Healthcare USA Inc.

Kelly Proctor, CHFM, CHSP, CHOP, is president at DNV Healthcare USA Inc., Milford, Ohio. He can be reached at kelly.proctor@dnv.com.