We receive many inquiries from facilities around the country, both hospitals and ASCs. For this month’s column, I thought I would share some of the more recent questions I have received regarding sterile processing and distribution (SPD).

“We have been rotating some of the surgical techs through sterile processing. I don’t think any of them know what they are doing, but the administrator insists on cross-training the staff. Does that make sense? Can you call her for us? Seems risky to me.”

I like cross-training in any facility. However, when it comes to SPD, there are some big issues involved. As a Medicare surveyor, I can tell you that there are 17 pages in the inspection book that deal solely with infection control. The vast majority of that material comes down to sterile processing. There needs to be at least one individual who oversees the process and handles all the paperwork, spore testing, temperature and pressure control, calibration of the equipment, and many other functions.

This is an area in which others can assist, but it really needs to be under the direction of personnel trained in the process.

“How much does a SPD tech make? I am a surgical tech now, and I know that the lady in charge of sterilization is leaving. I am thinking it might be a good career path for me.”

I agree that becoming an SPD tech could be a good career path. Infection control is important in all areas of healthcare. Concerning pay, I am sure salaries vary widely. For what it is worth, I was at a facility last week where the person in charge of sterile processing told me she was leaving to a higher paying position elsewhere for $39,000 per year.

“I missed a staff meeting and was elected to be the person at our surgery center to oversee infection control. It doesn’t sound too difficult as they described it to me. Is it?”

You should never miss staff meetings because of reasons like this. For Medicare purposes, ASCs should keep in mind the following:

  • Create an explicit infection control program;
  • Follow nationally recognized infection control guidelines;
  • Prove the existence of such programs and guidelines with documentation;
  • Select nationally recognized guidelines for your program such as those issued by the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee of the CDC, the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, specialty surgical societies, or others like the World Health Organization;
  • Does your surgery center employ a licensed healthcare professional who is qualified through training in infection control and is designated to direct the ASC’s program? If the person is not certified, then what type of training has the person received? Detail it, and back it up with documentation;
  • Note how many hours per week the infection control specialist spends in the ASC directing the program;
  • Demonstrate how the ASC actively identifies infections that may have been related to procedures performed at the ASC.

I could go on for many more pages, but you get the drift. Infection control and SPD are intimately linked and absolutely one of the most important programs in your facility. Do not take the duty lightly. If you cannot handle the responsibility or if you are not really passionate about it, then let someone else handle the task.

(Earnhart & Associates is a consulting firm specializing in all aspects of outpatient surgery development and management. Earnhart & Associates can be reached at 5114 Balcones Woods Drive, Suite 307-203, Austin, TX 78759. Phone: (512) 297-7575. Fax: (512) 233-2979. Email: searnhart@earnhart.com. Web: www.earnhart.com.)