NEHES Monthly Digest

Post-Pandemic Hospital Facility Teams Adapting Technology for Risk Mitigation and Renovation

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By Jack Rubinger, ARC Facilities,

Six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact is still a part of daily life for hospital facility managers – affecting staffing, emergency preparedness and compliance plans.

Managing the facility, addressing compliance, and preparing for this emergency has been a challenge. Resources and preparedness at different hospitals vary, but one element has been consistent – the lack of clear and consistent information and direction. Especially early on, it seemed like the guidelines changed daily. Many made the decision from day one to only follow the CDC’s guidelines and recommendations and augment that with information provided by ASHE.

“COVID-19 has had a significant impact on our hospital operations,” said Mark Reed, MLK Community Hospital, Los Angeles. “While our Emergency Operations Plan covered a pandemic response, it was difficult to envision the scope and scale that COVID-19 has had on the global level. Thankfully, we had a task force in early January and our Incident Management Team was activated early so we were able to appropriately respond.”

Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic is helping drive the need for hospitals to go digital to minimize multiple contacts with paper, but many hospitals still use binders filled with compliance documents, completed repair reports, inspection logs and other information which must be shared with surveyors.

In the post-pandemic era, hospitals have had numerous requests to convert units or wings and individual patient rooms to negative pressure or isolation rooms.

It’s important to have extensive building plan documentation, so construction departments and facility teams can access electrical, HVAC and other infrastructure areas needed in conversion construction.

One of the key hospital areas for facility teams are plan rooms, where equipment, system and building plans reside in piles, boxes and binders.

Most will agree that their plan rooms are hopelessly messy and disorganized. Finding detailed building plans to prepare for room conversions could take hours, even if the boxes, binders and hanging drawings are tagged and labeled. Another problem with paper is its fragility. Consider fires, floods and excessive handling. All contribute to erosion or destruction. The accumulation of decades of documentation is a real problem in aging hospital buildings.

“We have integrated technology to avoid a room full of blueprints, binders, CDs, manuals,” said Reed. “We store all this information in a central database that is accessible online and offline. This has made it easy for our staff in the field to look up information while working on a device and reducing PM completion time. This digital conversion also helps maintain institutional knowledge so when someone leaves the organization the information is still retained.”

The process of moving to a document control software platform has enabled many hospitals to inventory and organize paperwork and get rid of obsolete and duplicate copies.

To mitigate risk, hospitals are using controlled access/entry, temperature checks and screening, limited or no visitors, PPE training for staff, creating additional isolation rooms and negative pressure relationships, and ensuring that they have all the latest information on the virus and how it is spread.

Reed’s team, for example, has increased assessment schedules. They have changed some of their facility systems to provide increased air exchanges and create negative air pressure rooms for patients.

A day in the life of a hospital facility director is rarely predictable and precise. It’s 8+ hours of problem solving – relying on knowledge and the ability to perform based on best practices.

Activity and action can go from 0 to 60 in just seconds in the event of an emergency repair, a fire, flood, an active shooter or some other calamity. Everyday incidents like locked circuit boxes, generator failures and phone system crashes require immediate attention, too.

There’s rarely time to reflect. Facility managers are perceived of as walking encyclopedias of building knowledge among administrators, department heads, patients and contractors.

“In the world of maintenance, I need to get as much work done correctly, safely and as quickly as possible. If I can reduce the amount of time spent looking for information, I can achieve that,” said John Crouch, Director of Facilities, AdventHealth Wesley Chapel.

With information stored in the cloud, all information related to a piece of equipment or a device is available with a single search. Documents are integrated and visible across all departments.

With hospitals still in the post-pandemic phase, change is a constant. As facility teams, including remote workers, stretch their resources because of early retirement and furloughs, mobile technology tools can aid in risk mitigation, constructing room conversions and emergency preparation.

With advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning and optical character recognition (OCR), it is now possible to scan, digitize and organize thousands of pages of documentation and various electronic data formats, including thumb drives and CDs.

Once information is digitized, it can all be transferred to the cloud, making it accessible to hospital facility stakeholders via an app on a mobile device. It’s like carrying your records room and healthcare compliance documentation binders in your pocket. The benefit?

Better organization and instant access to critical healthcare data.


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