Creating a Unified Voice for the CS/SP Community

In February, the merger between the American Society for Healthcare Central Service Professionals (ASHCSP) and the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM) was finalized. ICT sat down with IAHCSMM president Richard Schule and president-elect Lisa Huber to discuss the benefits of the merger in creating one unified voice for the profession, and other pertinent issues facing the central service (CS) and sterile processing (SP) community as IAHCSMM celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

ICT: What are the benefits and goals of the association merger?

RS: The biggest relief is that we are done with the legal aspects of the merger. The membership and many industry individuals have been waiting to see what will happen.

We are excited now we can move ahead on the blending of the two organizations. We want to take the best of both worlds, merge a number of programs together and create a dynamic organization that will take the profession into the next 50 years. I have been in dialogue with ASHCSP president Penny Sabroski to get her input, and we are talking with board members from both organizations to field their suggestions going forward.

The main message is that this organization is for the membership, and that it serves as a resource for them as they contribute to safe patient care.

ICT: The process is not unlike bringing a step family together, isn’t it? What have been some of the challenges relating to the differences between the two groups?

LH: It is. One of the biggest differences between the two organizations is that IAHCSMM is an independent group that can make its own decisions, while ASHCSP was part of the American Hospital Association and experienced a very different dynamic.

Another difference is that IAHCSMM has many technicians as members, while ASHCSP had primarily managers, supervisors and directors; the makeup of the two groups was different. While that’s merely a starting point for the differences, there were many similarities, and we did have some crossover membership. Obviously the standards are the same no matter the group, as is the mission of getting information to the membership and representing the community.

RS: We have many parallel programs and must ensure the proper talents and resources are invested where they should be for the future, and we are also updating our courses to reflect the merger. Going forward we want to have more discussions about many issues — mandatory certification, including what we can do as an organization to help advocate. There are many moving parts right now and we want to ensure representation from both organizations as well as the membership, coming together to make this better for everyone.

LH: IAHCSMM is confident enough to accept the ideas anyone coming in new to us can bring to the table. We want to become a driving force for the people we serve. We feel we are, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t improvements to be made; together, they will happen faster and more efficiently than prior to the merger.

RS: One of the best things about the merger is the creation of one unified voice, one direction. In the past, people had to take into consideration dialogue from both organizations. Now, being more focused, we can become more proactive about partnering with and reaching out to other organizations. This past year I have been talking with the Association for Surgical Technologists (AST) and the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) about future collaborations, and they are digesting which opportunities they would like to seek from us. We’ve also talked with the Society for Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA) about the same thing. Many exciting things can happen.

ICT: What about APIC? So many infection control practitioners (ICPs) want to be involved in CS and SP issues these days.

LH: Natalie Lind, our education director, has been in contact with them; we are continuing to work toward partnering with them in the same ways we have done with other groups. We have the same goal — promoting infection prevention and control, since we represent a piece of the surgical pie and a piece of the infection control pie. We haven’t made major inroads but we will continue to talk, and as we improve our own standing, that becomes easier to do.

ICT: Can you speak to the importance of CS and SP personnel and ICPs working together?

RS: It’s extremely critical. I wasn’t invited to the infection control committee meetings at my prior facility because I wasn’t an RN; at my current hospital, CS and SP personnel are respected, and I do sit on the infection control committee serving an entire healthcare system. Representation at the infection control table must involve people who perform the decontamination and sterilization of patient-care devices, equipment and instruments.

It’s not a matter of professional credentialing per se, as much as it is bringing to the table people — including CS and SP managers — who have an awareness of what’s going on regarding prevention of healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs). When CS/SP managers are involved in infection control at that level, that awareness is passed on to the technicians doing the decontamination, running the sterilizers and assembling the trays. Those techs can tie the due diligence of their jobs to patient safety. If your CS/SP department is supporting the operating room (OR), a knowledge of SSIs (surgical site infections) gives techs a new appreciation for what they are doing and how important their job is to infection prevention. If you don’t invite a representative from the CS/SPD department to the infection control committee, a dangerous disconnect is about to happen.

ICT: What are the most pressing educational needs of the CS/SP community?

LH: One of the most pressing needs is for standardization and continuity. There are facilities that only provide on-the-job training. They don’t value continuing education or certification while others not only encourage certification, but require it. We also have managers that were given responsibility for SPD who have no technical training at all. Our challenge is to make sure that, like other healthcare careers, one must be trained adequately to perform the tasks requited. Certification is a huge component of standardization — for both technicians and managers — because it requires continuing education. We would like to see people mindfully choosing this as a profession, not simply taking the job by default. We want to cultivate all levels of the profession so that we are on par with other professionals in healthcare.

RS: The only thing I could add to that is the need for a stronger clinical ladder and being able to provide a template for that to demonstrate to people that they can work toward an associate-level degree similar to that of a surgical technologist. CS/SP can be an entry into a blossoming healthcare career. What a great place to start, because this department is truly a hub of any healthcare facility, and the place where everything from infection control and microbiology, to purchasing and distribution come together. From the CS/SP, people can go on to college to become a nurse or a physician, or some other position in patient care. They will remember that those supporting patient care are those so-called folks in the basement, reprocessing instruments.

ICT: What can be done to further elevate the CS/SP profession?

LH: Elevating department managers is important. If a manager feels respected and is proud of what he/she does, he/she can be the cheerleader throughout the hospital. They can talk up the importance of the profession, they can ensure education and training is happening, they can make sure everyone hired is of the highest caliber possible, insisting on professionalism and not taking the first person with a pulse who walks through the door for an interview. It’s a puzzle, and all the pieces are there. It’s just going to take time to put it together.

RS: The value of education cannot be underestimated. At my facility, for example, we hold a mandatory annual in-service on handwashing; we use a product for detecting the adequacy of handwashing, which helps drive home the fact we need to do our due diligence regarding hand hygiene. We also invite ICPs to talk about transmission of infectious diseases and bring in outside experts to explain to them why, for example, they shouldn’t bring their scrubs home to launder. Like Lisa said, it’s important for a manager to assume a cheerleader role, and if you don’t have an appreciation for infection control, that manger is doing harm to his/her staff.

ICT: What are your views on mandatory certification of CS/SP personnel?

RS: Mandatory certification provides a consistent foundation of knowledge throughout the state, not just a single health system or hospital. I think we must make the standards from the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) as the standards to go by. That puts everyone on the same page. And I think people will take the industry more seriously when they know they must be certified. We must work on getting people to understand the profession better, get to the real issues, and look past the stories that are sensationalized in the media — stories about hydraulic fluid being used for washing instruments or outbreaks of infections from flexible scopes that were not reprocessed properly. Those are process issues, but if you get to the gist of the matter — the need for better educated technicians performing the processes — then you can start resolving problems. Many healthcare administrators fear that mandatory certification will increase costs but that’s not necessarily true. The focus needs to be on the contribution to patient safety and prevention of infections. If we focus on that, the rest will fall into place. The cost savings related to preventing HAIs could be used to raise the salaries of CS/SP workers.

LH: I agree. Being educated and credentialed goes a long way toward adding prestige and credibility to the profession. You can’t do it, as Richard said, to raise the incomes of a group of people, but hopefully that’s one of the byproducts.

RS: Certification establishes a foundation of knowledge. From there, the responsibilities that go along with that certification is professionalism, defined as maintaining, enhancing and growing that foundation of knowledge you initiated.

ICT: Any last thoughts on the remaining year before Richard steps down and Lisa steps up?

LH: Richard and I have worked together on other boards, and Richard has worked with Don Gordon, our immediate past president; even though we bring different things to the table, there is a continuity of mission. Frequently in situations where you go from one president to another to another, you get two years of one message and then two years of another message and nothing is consistent. I hope that the consistency that will be demonstrated over our combined six years allows us to go further as an organization than we would have otherwise. I see the profession and IAHCSMM as being on the cusp of even greater greatness, so to speak. Our profession impacts the surgical team, the hospital’s bottom line, and above all, patient safety. And when you magnify that by more than 10,000 members, it’s a voice that is getting louder and a message that’s being heard. ICT

Richard W. Schule, MBA, BS, CST, CRCST, FCS, is director of clinical sterile processes for Clarian Health Partners in Indianapolis. Lisa S. Huber, BA, CRCST, FCS, ACE, is sterile processing director for Anderson Hospital in Maryville, Ill.