SPD should be a quality hub within healthcare organization

March 24, 2022

Courtney Mace Davis sees no viable reason why healthcare organizations should not take sterile processing seriously. Nor does she understand why this even is an issue if quality-motivated executives simply connect the dots between what happens to patients in the Operating Room, which relies on Sterile Processing and Distribution (SPD) service, and what happens to those patients post-discharge – as in outcomes.

With an extensive background in quality management systems, Mace Davis should know. She shares with Healthcare Purchasing News Senior Editor Rick Dana Barlow the critical nature of what her award-winning team does and why it matters.

HPN: Let’s start at the beginning of the process. How does your team access manufacturer instructions for use IFUs? What is your biggest challenge with IFUs? Access? Content details? Something else? Why?

MACE DAVIS: We use OneSource to access IFUs and also request them from the original equipment manufacturers.  The biggest challenges with IFUs are the lack and inconsistency of information – especially when it comes to cleaning devices. Manufacturers have an opportunity to ensure these documents align with the actual workflows in SPD. This is a high-pressure environment, and our technicians need IFUs with simple, easy-to-follow instructions. Years ago, I was part of a team that performed an analysis of five trays, which resulted in 153 IFUs with unique workflows. It’s not realistic to manage that many workflows, and this was only for five trays! Additionally, in some cases the content is outdated and not based on current technology or standards. This is slowly improving as more end-users become involved in AAMI work groups and standards development.

What makes SPD in a university healthcare system different from SPD in a secular system – investor-owned, non/not-for-profit or government and why?

At first glance, the emphasis on teaching, learning, and innovation in a university healthcare system may seem like a difference, but I believe once that mindset is cultivated those attributes can be promoted in any setting. 

Of SPD’s ongoing strategic goals, which do you foresee as the most challenging for your SPD team and why? How about the least challenging and why?

The most challenging isn’t any particular goal, but rather the pace we maintain to achieve the goal. This goes back to the theme of not what we have to do, but rather how we do it. Working in SPD is a marathon and something we need to manage intentionally and proactively every day. But many of the SPD challenges coupled with the effects of the pandemic (both personally and professionally) have turned this marathon into a sprint. There’s often a sense of urgency to pivot as we are faced with new and often unexpected challenges (staffing, variable case volumes, construction) on a daily basis, and this pace can sometimes feel unmanageable and overwhelming. As a whole, our healthcare team’s well-being is very important to NorthShore, and we need to lead by example. That means taking time to slow down and separate from work. This can be challenging when there’s so much to do, but it is important and expected. 

The least challenging strategic goal for our SPD team will be doing the right things every day. I believe we have built a culture in which we do the right thing every day every time, whether someone is looking or not. It is incredibly powerful to have this level of confidence in ourselves and our teams. 

Returning to the pandemic, what were some of the key challenges that SPD faced in 2020-2021 that they overcame and excelled?

For us one of the key challenges was taking care of our people and ourselves during a time of great uncertainty and loss. Our SPD leaders are aligned in our management philosophy of helping each other succeed, but the pandemic affected us all in different ways. The support needed isn’t the same for everyone. It’s a different level of leadership when we personally get to know our team members and what we need to do to support them through a crisis like we’ve experienced the past couple of years.

I believe our team has built resilience and compassion during the pandemic and we are better leaders because of it. We are humble and appreciative of others; we’ve listened more and worked together to help each other – these are all ways we excelled as people and leaders over the past couple of years.

Courtney, your background is in quality improvement and process management, and it includes the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC was a finalist for the 2016 SPD Department of the Year Award), as well as CIVCO and Celestica, where you concentrated on quality and business process improvement and lean management engineering. What elements and experiences from that background have you brought to NorthShore and implemented in SPD because you deemed them valuable contributions and why?

We were finalists at Iowa under my leadership in 2016 and 2017. Third time is the charm!

I’ve been fortunate to work in a variety of positions in my career. At Motorola (referring to Motorola instead of Celestica since there was an acquisition) I learned about the power of Six Sigma and reducing process variation, Lean and the power of workflow management including the elimination of waste, and the value of engaging the front-line staff in process improvements. As a Corporate Quality & Business Process Improvement Manager for CIVCO Medical Solutions, I learned about medical device quality systems, product validations and how to manage teams across multiple locations. And at UIHC, I spent several years working with an amazing team in operations excellence where we focused on ways to facilitate improvements in many healthcare departments.

I have brought all of these valuable experiences with me to NorthShore. As much as we share our stories as an industry, SPD is still a misunderstood department. In particular, the mindset of continuous improvement and strong people-focused leadership are a couple of things I prioritize with my team. With this approach anything is possible!

If any other facilities reading about you wanted to emulate NorthShore’s SPD success by implementing any or as many of your organization’s processes as possible, how would you advise them to start? Which areas should they tackle first and why?

Hire the right people – and then support them! The complexities in managing high-performing SPD departments are increasing rapidly. Technology and standards are changing, and we have budgets to adhere to. SPD leadership is not for the timid. We are protectors of our teams, our organizations and our patients. Doing the right thing every time isn’t always easy, but leaders can make difficult decisions easier with a safety net built on both personal and professional relationships. If our teams feel supported, they will be more willing to step out of their comfort zones and lead some of these process improvements that have traditionally been out of scope for SPD. 

After the right people are in place, a gap analysis and risk assessment should be done. This collaborative approach to priorities will promote needed buy-in. What you actually tackle first will be dependent on things like risk, ease and speed of implementation, stakeholders, resource availability and skillset. This can’t be prescriptive and will depend on the organization. 

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Original photo courtesy Bayhealth SPD, HPN's 2021 SPD of the Year, with affects added by generative AI.
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