The purpose of the heart is to distribute blood throughout the entire body. It provides blood to the critical hard-to-reach places and sometimes it even gives blood to other recipients. The heart is one of the most vital organs in the human body and has a huge responsibility for keeping us alive. It controls the whole circulatory system. Small and mighty weighing less than a pound, it is only the size of your fist. It is also the main component in the toughest of people. Even the smallest competitors have heard the saying they are small BUT they have a heart! Quietly beating over 100,000 times per day and pumping out over 2,000 gallons of blood, the heart is easily an afterthought in our everyday life. We never ponder about how it is sustaining us. We don’t actually think about what all it does. While the heart’s functions are very important, as long as all systems go, it is often taken for granted.
This brings us to the Sterile Processing Department.
The purpose of SPD is to distribute sterile goods throughout the whole hospital. We send sterile supplies to all corners of the facility and even sometimes to off-site facilities. We are one of the most vital departments in the hospital. We control the surgery department as you have to have sterile instruments to operate. Not having sterile items during an operation is a huge risk for infection, sometimes resulting in serious injury and even death in some cases. We play a role in ancillary clinics as they need sterile items to do routine things during checkups and minor procedures. We have our hands in GI procedures as we deal with the High-Level Disinfection of all types of scopes. This disinfection process makes scopes and other semi-critical items safe to use from one patient to the next while eliminating the risk of infection and cross-contamination.
While quietly cranking out a large number of sterile items per day and all the steps that go into it, the Sterile Processing Department is often an afterthought in the daily cycle of the hospital. The process is long and very detailed. We train for months and sometimes up to a year to perfect this craft as we understand the importance of what our job entails. All surgeons know is that the trays are sterile and ready to use when they are preparing to cut.
Just like the heart, we have many steps to distribute these items to their desired destinations. These items must first go through decontamination, where we manually clean and visually inspect them. But it isn’t just washing dishes, as these items are normally covered in blood and require a special cleaner for removal. Next, the items undergo an automated wash cycle. This wash cycle places the instruments through very high pressure and hot water temps to ensure these items are clean and safe to be handled by the SPD staff on the clean side of things. The next step is to manually assemble these instrument sets, most of the time to the delight of the OR staff. This is when these instruments will be visually inspected by our trained staff for any defects and for cleanliness.
The last step is the sterilization process. It is the SPD tech’s job to make sure that this is completed according to the manufacturer’s guidelines to not cause any damage to the items. After all of these steps have taken place, the SPD team now takes on the functionality of the Heart. We distribute our quality work to all corners of the hospital. No one worries about how it got there and what it took to get there, as long as it’s there, everything is all good. As long as we are doing the dirty work of what needs to be done, no one actually thinks about what it is that we do.
SPD is the first step in the responsibility of patient safety, but just like the heart, the last to be thought about in the process. But no matter where we rank on anyone’s importance scale, we will continue to do what we love. We’ll continue to distribute to our customers. We’ll continue to be behind the scenes. We will continue to pump ours all into making sure we provide sterility where it’s needed.
We will continue to be SPD, The Heart of the Hospital
Jason Williams CRCST, CSIS, CER