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Sterile Processing Plays Key Role in Infection Prevention and Patient Safety

Lawrence General’s Sterile Processing Department cleans and prepares more than 1,000 medical instruments and devices a week for both the Surgical Services Department and clinical areas throughout the hospital. Their team plays a critical role in preventing infections and maintaining staff and patient safety.

“Without properly sterilized surgical instruments, staff would be at risk for unexpected exposure to bloodborne pathogens and patients would be at risk for hospital-acquired infections,” says Karen Cozzens, RN, director of Infection Control.
Thanks to its new location in the Santagati Center for surgery, Lawrence General’s Sterile Processing Department is now keeping patients and staff safer than ever. “When designing the new surgical center, we had the opportunity to thoughtfully, and very intentionally, design all of the workflows throughout the building, including Sterile Processing,” says David Spofford, RN, senior director of surgical services and outpatient procedures.
This design process led to the creation of a closed environment in which designated elevators for clean and dirty instruments connect the operating rooms and Sterile Processing. “This prevents cross-contamination by ensuring that all clean and soiled surgical equipment stay separated at all times,” says David. New cart washers and updated equipment have also been added to bolster sterilization.
While the physical space and high tech equipment are important, the technicians who make up the Sterile Processing team are the real key to success in this department. “Sterile Processing is highly regulated and always under scrutiny during a visit by The Joint Commission or Department of Public Health,” says Karen. “Staff in the department must be well versed in—and always compliant with—standards set by a number of different regulatory agencies.”
Technicians in the department must also earn certification in sterile processing within one year of hire and complete annual competencies to ensure they remain current in best practices. That means keeping up to date in a world of ever-sophisticated and highly complex surgical instruments, some of which involve hundreds of steps to clean. 
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1.9 percent of all patients who have surgery will get a surgical site infection,” says Karen. “Thanks to our skilled staff, new space, and the systems we have in place, we are working hard to beat that average.”


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