When it comes to medical device reprocessing, the most critical tasks happen in the decontamination area of sterile processing departments. Proper pre-cleaning is the foundational step to patient care. So why do negative stigmas surrounding the decontamination area of sterile processing departments continue to be an issue?
3 Issues that Cause Poor Stigma Regarding Decontamination
- Space and equipment issues
Sterile processing departments are not always outfitted with the right equipment or infrastructure needed to perform the responsibilities that have been assigned. Sterile processing departments may need a three-bay sink and will often have two bays in which to work. As a result, the responsibility falls to the technician to make the equipment achieve both compliance and performance. In departments where space is limited, this becomes a bigger challenge. Poor equipment and departmental limitations can immediately cause the decontamination area to become a place of frustration.
- Pain and discomfort
The decontamination area is a dangerous place to work. Ergonomic hazards to technicians are ripe with injuries from sharps and the body becomes physically tasked when repeatedly lifting trays and bending over sink basins cleaning instruments. Additionally, the decontamination area is hot and sweaty. Add the layers of personal protective equipment (PPE) equipment required to work in the decontamination area and it becomes even more hot and sweaty. Over time, the conditions can put a physical strain on technicians and put them at risk for injury. As a result, it becomes hard to enjoy working in an area that causes pain and discomfort.
- Utilizing decontamination as a punishment
Scheduling can become a major root of poor stigmas in the decontamination area. Managers tend to continue to schedule the same people to work in the decontamination area. Consequently, the long shifts are staffed by the same technicians. Departments that implement frequent rotations of personnel may see improvements in negative attitudes. Additionally, due to the negative perception of working in decontamination, managers will also threaten to punish employees by sending them to work in decontamination. When technicians are overworked and underappreciated in the decontamination area, employee dissatisfaction becomes an issue.
Removing the negative stigma surrounding working in the decontamination area
Removing the stigmas surrounding working in the decontamination area begin with the central sterile processing department leadership. Technicians need to understand and believe that there is no task that is too small when it comes to performing the important work in decontamination. Every channel, every instrument set, every tip is a valuable tool in delivering safe patient outcomes. Technicians, managers, and supervisors are the gatekeepers of patient and staff safety and are responsible for ensuring that each item that comes through the sterile processing department is clean. Remember, every member of the team is vitally important in this process.
Recognizing the demanding work that staff perform in the decontamination area is another step toward eliminating the negative stigmas. When technicians take time and perform their duties meticulously and end their shift with all case carts completed, managers and supervisors should recognize those achievements. Sterile processing professionals can never hear “thank you,” or “good job,” enough.
Sterile processing departments should not underestimate that the element of fear could also be the result of negative perceptions when it comes to working decontamination. If you have never worked in sterile processing, and a technician’s first introduction to the sterile processing department begins in decontamination, the area can seem intimidating. Manufacturer instructions for use (IFU) are quite rigorous with no wiggle room for mistakes. For example, technicians must follow the IFU or suffer the risk to patient and staff safety. Decontamination is a dangerous environment, and proper training for technicians to feel comfortable working in decontamination necessary for successful patient outcomes.
3 tools to help shift negative sterile processing department decontamination perceptions to generate positive results
- Identify sterile processing vendors that are actively involved in producing tools for the decontamination space.
Vendors may provide equipment for decontamination, but if they are not actively engaged in improving that space, they cannot be a long-term partner for addressing the issues you find in decontamination.If departments do not have enough funds allocated in the budget for new sinks, consider sink inserts, which can raise the working level and make your deep sink basins much more manageable. Departments can also consider ergonomic improvements such as anti-fatigue mats. These small tweaks make a difference for the working conditions in decontamination and lead to better staff engagement and satisfaction.
- Mobilize and empower sterile processing teams by sharing the responsibility of auditing and improving the decontamination department processes.
Personnel can help guide departments to implement the best, long-term fixes for their department. By seeking staff input, department leaders can create a collaborative environment in which to celebrate working in decontamination. Department leaders who consistently communicate and educate regarding the importance of decontamination, immediately create a more welcoming atmosphere. Education is a critical pillar to building a solid decontamination area. Sterile processing departments can experience great benefits from partnering with local IAHCSMM chapters and exchanging ideas and information. When departments sponsor decontamination-related education, it sends a signal that the decontamination area is important.
- Find a decontam champion!
In sterile processing departments where negative resentments around decontamination persist, your champion, when mobilized, will help others learn to love decontamination. Involving the decontamination champion can help departments when evaluating new product improvements. Decontam champions can also create great partnerships with educators when performing decontamination in-service training. If staff see decontamination as a dead-end, it will begin to affect the entire team. However, if departments can provide routes to improve staff mentalities with a champion program, sterile processing department leadership demonstrates that personnel talents, knowledge, skills, and abilities are recognized. A champion can be a powerful thing.
Stigmas surrounding the decontamination area can always end with sterile processing leadership personnel. If you love decontamination, then your team will learn to love it as well. You can never overcommunicate the significance that decontamination holds in the sterile processing department.
For a more in-depth discussion regarding the negative stigmas surrounding the decontamination areas of sterile processing and to earn .05 CE credits, listen to IAHCSMM’s Process This podcast. Pure Processing’s business operations manager, Megan Pietura, addresses more solutions creating a positive atmosphere in the decontamination department.