Tips for Increasing Patient Safety during a Pandemic Manage equipment, supplies and staffing wisely BY DAMIEN BERG

Surgery center operations are categorized into areas that help maintain patient and staff safety. How do we best use our resources

in these categories to follow infection prevention guidelines during a pan- demic? A few tips follow.

Equipment Under lockdown, important equipment in surgery centers remained idle. Was the equipment being maintained while not in use? Are preventive mainte- nances now overdue, and does the staff remember all the nuances around the equipment’s operations? While pro- viding patient care, your ASC does not want its staff to use faulty machin- ery or be unsure of how to program or operate a piece of equipment. Industry recommendations sug- gest that any equipment that has been sitting idle for a prolonged time be inspected by the vendor, a biomedi- cal engineer or another professional to ensure it is still in operating condi- tion. Schedule in-services on special- ized equipment to retrain staff on the proper usage and components of each piece of equipment. Finally, offer a trial run to acclimate

everyone working with the equipment to its functions. Plug it in, power it up and give it a test run prior to using it with a patient.

Supplies Just like equipment, sitting supplies can be a cause for concern. Some become outdated. In an emergency, supply shortages can also occur. Conducting a full inventory and contacting the ven- dors to see what is on backorder will help with scheduling cases and elim-

inate the problem of reaching for a needed supply that is no longer there.

N95 Masks

While shortages of N95 masks still exist in some places, ASCs have options that can help them preserve their inventory. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has determined that industrial N95s can be safely worn by caregivers to provide care for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients in every clinical setting except for surgi- cal and procedural areas. The industrial N95s provide the equivalent level of air filtration protection as the health-grade N95s but have lower ratings for perme- ability, which is why, according to cur- rent guidelines, a face shield should be worn with them.

Cleaning Cleaning was always important, and now, more than ever, it is a central focus for ASC staff throughout the day. Using digital tools to access the most updated instructions for use and documentation can help ensure patient and staff safety. Each facility needs to determine whether key areas are addressed every day or more frequently based on the hours and type of business they do. A multidisci- plinary risk assessment is in order. Bring all key stakeholders to the table and determine what is the best approach for


each cleaning function. Develop policies that define when, what and how often each action will be taken based on the latest CDC recommendations.

Other Challenges

One of the looming safety and patient concerns for our team is staffing. With the opening of schools and other activities, we have been tasked to ana- lyze how to staff our surgery centers to provide the safest environment for both our patients and staff. This can greatly impact patient care and is a real distraction for our team members who want to focus on the care of our patients and the needs of our families. In addition to this challenge, health-

care facilities across the country always have people calling in sick for a number of reasons, but now we have COVID- 19 and flu season. All of these “other” challenges have created opportunities for leaders and staff to devise creative staffing models and plans to keep the doors open and accommodate staff. An open, honest and united staffing plan can build collaboration and create options to meet everyone’s needs. Looking at tips and tools for how to operate safely in the ongoing COVID-19 world, there are no easy answers and the experts’ recommendations change daily. I personally recommend creating a lead- ership outreach group of different sur- gery centers to see what is working, what is not working and how we can help our counterparts. This is the true path to suc- cess for the rapidly changing and evolv- ing reality. The good news is that there is great progress and many success sto- ries and lessons learned, so we can all improve and provide outstanding patient care that is safe for all of us.

Damien Berg is a consultant with OneSource in Salt Lake City, Utah. Write him at

The advice and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent official Ambulatory Surgery Center Association policy or opinion.

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