From law enforcement to pro football to laser safety to SPD

April 26, 2021
Bayhealth SPD leader’s career track has been a wild ride

Melissa McVaugh may not be your typical Director of Sterile Processing.

In fact, if you look at her extensive background you might be left either scratching your head about how this person rose through the ranks to lead Dover, DE-based Bayhealth’s SPD team that Healthcare Purchasing News named this month as the 2021 SPD Department of the Year.

Or you might scratch below the surface-dwelling stereotypes and experience an epiphany.

Either way, McVaugh shared her curiously unique background with HPN Senior Editor Rick Dana Barlow who invited her to relate her background that spanned terms as a state trooper, professional football player and front-office executive before pivoting to a healthcare career that started in laser safety before migrating to SPD and infection prevention.

HPN: You spent five years in the latter half of the 1980s as a Delaware State Trooper after graduating from the Delaware State Police Academy. What attracted you to an initial career in law enforcement and then what skills from law enforcement did you bring to healthcare and why?

McVaugh: When I was a young child, approximately six years old, I was determined that when I grew up, I was going to be a Delaware State Trooper. There was nothing else I wanted to do more than join the police force. In preparation for that goal, I focused on academics, stayed out of trouble, joined the law enforcement division of the Explorers [Law Enforcement Exploring or ’Police Explorers’], and played sports to maintain the athletic requirements. I wanted to be a police officer so badly and that decision made me somewhat of a nerd. I never drank underage, never touched drugs and always followed the rules.

While in the Explorers, I attended a Leadership Certification Program at the FBI Headquarters in Quantico, VA. This three-day program taught me a lot about leadership roles and responsibilities. It taught me what makes a good leader and what makes an ineffective leader.

In policing, there are so many laws, rules and responsibilities. Same as SPD, there are so many regulatory standards and IFUs to follow that making the transition from law enforcement to SPD was easy. I just had to learn a new set of laws. I feel as though I am still in law enforcement, but for healthcare.

After retiring from law enforcement what attracted you to play professional football with the Delaware Griffins of the Women’s Professional Football League? What position did you play? You also worked in front office operations. What skills did you bring from on the field and from in the front office to healthcare and why?

As a young child, I loved football and would always play with the neighborhood boys in pick-up games. In 2000, Women’s Professional Football came locally (in Philadelphia), so I had to try out. I made the team and played for the Philadelphia Liberty Bells for three years. I then bought a team in Delaware and that was the birth of the Delaware Griffins. I co-owned the team, helped coach, and I played cornerback and wide receiver until I retired in 2008.

The skills I brought from the field to healthcare were discipline and streamlining processes. On the field, you want to have every play streamlined because wasted time would cost you a sack and/or potential touchdown. Wasted time in SPD will cost you delays in the OR, which is not fair to the patient.

You earned a nursing degree and were educated in laser safety where you practiced at the DuPont Children’s Hospital. What drew you to healthcare and in these particular niches and why?

While doing my clinical rotation in nursing school, I fell in love with the OR. I applied to be a Surgical Tech while still in nursing school. After joining the OR team, my manager asked me if I would go to school to learn to become a Laser Safety Officer. I did.

That same OR manager left the organization to join another health system. She called me and said she needed a manager in SPD. I told her I was not that familiar with SPD. She said she knew I could learn it. That was how I ended up in SPD. This obviously is my niche.

From DuPont Children’s you moved to Christiana Care to oversee SPD, but also serving as an infection preventionist within the department with a dotted line to Infection Prevention. What drew you to that organization to serve in those specialties?

I was recruited by Christiana after their Joint Commission survey. They had over 100 citations regarding infection prevention and instrumentation, transport, [high-level disinfection] and sterilization. I was working with all the ambulatory, surgery centers, units and SPD to get them prepared for the next TJC survey. [When] Joint Commission arrived, we had 0 citations regarding HLD/Sterilization, transporting, etc. Janice Nevin, President of Christiana, told me that was the best survey they ever had.

What motivated you to launch your consultancy Standardized Sterilization Concepts?

I realized a lot of health systems are struggling with the regulatory standards and Joint Commission surveys. I decided to launch my own consulting business to help them be at best practices. I do some pro-bono work as well as contract work. My most recent job with SSC was working with a Surgery Center that was trying to obtain their AAAHC Certification. [I’m] proud to say they obtained it on the first attempt.

What drew you to Bayhealth to improve its SPD operations and why?

After the results of The Joint Commission Survey were public, a recruiter hired by Bayhealth contacted me about the Bayhealth position. At first, I was reluctant to accept the position. However, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to help a deprived, under-thriving department and bring them to a level of excellence.