Recently, I was chatting with an Environmental Services manager who works for a large hospital. He was telling me about his struggle dealing with competing challenges in his operation. On the one hand, he and his team were expected to provide cleaning services that maintained a safe and hospitable environment for the patients and staff. On the other hand, the hospital was struggling to improve access to care and was planning on accelerating patient throughput. Capping-off his trilogy of woes was the fact that the finance department was expecting him to save money and reduce the cost of his department. “Safety” he lamented, “is about consistently performing to the required standard, using well trained staff, following proper protocols and techniques, and having the resources to do the job”. “If the hospital wants to increase patient throughput, I will need more staff and equipment, yet saving money is all about cutting”. “I don’t know what they expect – I can’t work miracles” he complained. “The icing on the cake” he confided, “was something I overheard from another hospital employee”. We were in a meeting to review the findings from an outbreak investigation on one of our patient care units; someone made a remark “what’s wrong with the Housekeeping staff, why don’t they get it?” “It’s so frustrating, we get it! but our hands are tied” he exclaimed.
The manager’s story sounded familiar to me; I’ve heard it before. Having worked with Environmental Services teams in many health care facilities, I can say that this particular manager’s frustration is shared by his colleagues across the country. While everyone likes to be appreciated and recognized, Environmental Services do not need to be reminded how important the work they do is, they know it! What they need is help; to communicate the message that investment in Environmental Services is a wise decision, one that directly contributes to the strategic priorities of the healthcare organization, Wellness, Access, and Cost.
Through a clean environment, patient safety is improved. While we have always believed this to be true, a growing body of clinical research is emerging that validates what Florence Nightingale knew back in the 1800’s (and every good mother has always known), Cleaning Saves Lives!. A clean environment reduces opportunities for Hospital Acquired Infection (HAI). Infection Prevention and Control thought-leaders support this understanding and are leading a growing chorus of voices, championing the critical contribution Environmental Services makes to patient safety.
If you think about how a hospital or long term care facility operates, it is not hard to picture the vital contribution Environmental Services makes to improving patient access. Through the cleaning of vacated beds, stretchers in the emergency department, operating rooms turnovers etc., patient throughput is accelerated. Medical and clinical resources can only be effective, if “the environment is ready for care”.
From a “unit-cost” perspective, Environmental Services represents good value. If you’re like me, you spend way-too-many hours contemplating the “comparative economic value” of Environmental Services, verses other forms of investment a hospital might make, to reduce HAI rates or improve patient access. It doesn’t take an MBA, to appreciate the “Return On Investment” for increasing Environmental Services staff, supervisory and equipment resources. Spending on Environmental Services is not just common sense; it’s good business sense as well.
Some people would say that things (in healthcare) have never been worse. I say, “It’s a great time to be in the healthcare cleaning profession!” The stakes have never been higher, however senior healthcare leaders are beginning to appreciate the vital contribution Environmental Services makes to the efficient and effective operation of a healthcare facility. Our challenge (in Environmental Services leadership) is to rise to the opportunity.
Yours in Service Excellence…
Mark Heller is an independent healthcare and operations executive. As Vice President – Environmental Services, for Alberta Health Services, Mark led the integration of North Americas largest Environmental Services organization; responsible for the cleaning of clinical and non-clinical environments, patient portering and waste management in health care facilities, across Alberta, Canada. As national technical leader for Aramark Health Care, Mark and his team were responsible for supporting Environmental Services operations, in healthcare facilities across Canada. Having worked with Environmental Services leaders in over 350 healthcare facilities, Mark has established a national and international profile, and is widely recognized in Infection Prevention and Control circles. Mark has been a member of CHICA Canada for many years. Presently completing a post-graduate degree in business administration (MBA) with the Queen’s School of Business, Mark consults for healthcare and business organizations in the area of healthcare support services.