Sterile Processing Department - Atlanta VA Health Care System
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Sterile Processing Department

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

By Theresa Jackson

Behind the doors of room GC – 120 at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, a little-known department plays an instrumental role in patient and family centered care.

The Sterile Processing Department consistently meets the high standards for decontamination, cleaning and sterilization of instruments used in medical and surgical procedures. This in-house process takes place 24 hours per day and is accomplished by well trained staff who must meet national and hospital mandates as well as performance measures. Donald Fisher, department manager and also a Veteran, gave an example of how SPD impacts the medical center. "A wheel cannot turn without its center and we’re are at the center. What we do can affect outcomes and it’s an important part of healthcare."

A typical day for a SPD staff member begins with a change of clothes into facility laundered uniforms prior to entering the work area. No personal uniforms are allowed inside the department. Covers for shoes, head and facial hair must be worn to prevent contamination. Disposable and impermeable gowns and gloves are donned for self protection and in areas where splashes may occur, a full face shield is needed.

The department uses several working areas to thoroughly clean instruments. In the decontamination area all soiled items go through a stringent cleaning process. A sonic washer is used for most instruments, but fragile ones are washed by hand. Next, cleaned tools are moved to the preparation room for inspection. Each piece is examined for damage and if found to be defective is removed from stock. Instruments are packaged for use and autoclaved, which is sterilizing with steam pressure of 270 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the package is cooled, it is moved to the storage area where the temperature is maintained between 65 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Our staff processes in excess of 2,700 instruments per week, to include those used in heart, spine, orthopedics, vascular, eye and ear, nose and throat procedures," said Seaton West (MBA, MSN, MHCM, RN, CNOR, CRMST), Associate Nurse Executive of Perioperative Services and SPD Chief.

The department works in conjunction with Infection Control and Reusable Medical Equipment Committees to ensure tasks are completed according to strict guidelines. "We have six surveys (inspections) per year, three of which are unannounced and to date we have passed each one to include Joint Commission," said West, a Veteran. As services expand, the department will support Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) with all needed reusable equipment.

Assistant Manager Kimberly Bostic feels a positive attitude is the best way to promote employee and patient morale. "I have a vested interest in this medical center and want to make sure we are doing our best to provide Veterans with service that is second to none," the Army Veteran added. Another Veteran who receives care here recently toured the Sterile Processing Department to get an up close look at the operation.

"As a patient, it gives you a safe and secure feeling when you see such a high degree of professionalism and such amazing attention to detail," the combat Veteran said. "It’s a job some might take for granted but they seem to understand the importance of their mission and take it very seriously."

Certified by the International Association of Healthcare Central Service and Material Management (IAHCSMM), the SPD staff couldn’t agree more!

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