Keeping surgical instruments sterile, safe
The first line of defense in combating patient infections for a hospital is its Central Services. Sterile processing technicians sterilize and decontaminate reusable surgical and clinical instruments in adherence to standards and recommended practices prioritizing patient safety. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma)
EL PASO, Texas — According to the World Health Organization, Health care-Associated Infection is the most frequent adverse event in health-care delivery worldwide.
While nosocomial infections, an infection acquired while admitted to a hospital, account for everything from urinary tract infections to pneumonia, a dedicated group of technicians at William Beaumont Army Medical Center work around the clock to minimize the potential for surgical site infections.
“We are the personnel who process reusable instruments,” said Army Capt. Cliff Fontanez, officer in charge, Sterile Processing Department, WBAMC. “Instruments that are used for surgery are sterilized here, with different levels of decontamination.”
The first line of defense in combating patient infections for a hospital is its Central Services, or SPD as it is known at WBAMC. Sterile processing technicians sterilize and decontaminate reusable surgical and clinical instruments in adherence to standards and recommended practices prioritizing patient safety.
“If the SPD goes down the Operating Room can’t function, most procedures at clinics can’t be done,” said Fontanez. “On a daily basis we decontaminate instruments that were used.”
While the main supply of unsterile instruments comes from WBAMC’s Operating Room, SPD processes all WBAMC instruments from dental to OBGYN. In addition to military and Department of the Army civilians, the SPD’s capabilities are increased by incorporating Veterans Affairs SPD technicians to serve not only WBAMC clinics but also the El Paso Veterans Affairs Healthcare System.
“The heart of the hospital starts with the ER, the same thing goes for us when it comes to the OR,” said Michelle Kim, SPD technician, WBAMC. “It’s not just cleaning instruments; (technicians) need to be knowledgeable.”
With each new surgical procedure introduced at WBAMC, technicians must train on the proper decontamination/ sterilization processes required for the procedure’s instruments, to include assembly and disassembly and functionality tests for specialized tools. About 6,000 sets of instruments are sterilized each month at SPD and each set may contain a few dozen instruments to more than 200.
“In the past most of the instruments were very easy to clean and process,” said Fontanez. “Now you can have five to six different sterilization methods for different types of instruments, including microsurgery instruments which are very delicate.”
According to Fontanez, the future of SPD technicians at WBAMC is filled with more learning opportunities as they prepare for operations out of the Fort Bliss Replacement Hospital. An increase in surgical capabilities and minimally-invasive robotic surgeries requiring specialized technical expertise is expected with the move.
“You need to know the (surgical) procedures,” said Kim, who has been working in the field for over a year now. “I love it.”
“They always say SPD are the unsung heroes,” said Fontanez. “If we stop, they stop.”
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