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Archive November 2019 XX, No. 11

Unsung Heroes

Reprocessing techs are essential to the delivery of safe and efficient care. It's time to start treating them that way.

Daniel Cook

Daniel Cook, Editor-in-Chief


Pamela Bevelhymer, RN, BSN, CNOR
EMPLOYEE RECOGNITION Make every effort to improve the work environment, satisfaction and performance of your sterile processing techs.

Last month at OR Excellence in New Orleans, attendees packed the conference’s main presentation hall for an open forum discussion about ways to improve the performances of their facilities’ sterile processing departments. Melony Prince, BSN, RN, CNOR, clinical nurse educator at Littleton (Colo.) Adventist Hospital, raised her hand.

“Why is it,” she asked with a mix of wonder and exasperation, “that my daughter made more as a lifeguard in her first job out of college than my hospital pays our reprocessing techs?”

Peter Nichol, MD, PhD, an associate professor of pediatric surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, peered down from the dais, smiled and leaned toward his mic. “How much time do you have?”

‘A $50 billion problem’

Rewind several years. Dr. Nichol is on vacation in Southern California when he received a series of emails from an orthopedic surgeon who was complaining about repeatedly receiving instruments back from sterile processing with bone fragments still on their surfaces. “I was pissed off, frankly, and decided I needed to spend time in the department to figure out what was going on,” says Dr. Nichol.

When he returned to work, Dr. Nichol worked shoulder to shoulder with hardworking reprocessing techs and was shocked by the sheer complexity of the operation as instruments came and went amid a dizzying and disorganized swirl of activity. “Trying to understand what was going on made my head spin,” says Dr. Nichol. “Sterile processing departments need to be run like high-tech 21st century manufacturing plants. Right now, it’s like pre-Henry Ford.”

He was also incredibly impressed with the dedication of techs who often toil in relative obscurity. “They have tremendous drive and perseverance to master their craft, and are very aware that the instruments they take care of are touching human beings,” says Dr. Nichol. “They’re critical to the delivery of safe and efficient surgical care. It’s egregious what we pay these people.”

He’s right. Earning near minimum wage is simply not enough for the responsiblity of making sure the instruments that invade patients’ bodies are properly sterilized. Knowing how to care for thousands of devices is difficult enough without the external influences and challenges that make their jobs even more challenging — surgical schedules designed to increase case volumes and revenues, loaner trays showing up at the last minute, and countless regulatory requirements and recalls to manage.

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