Hospitals

Things you want to know about sterile processing

Sterile processing is one of the unsung heroes of a hospital.
By Jon Flann May 10, 2019
Photo courtesy: Henderson Engineers

Sterile processing is one of the unsung heroes of a hospital. This space cannot be shut down so it’s rarely the focus of major construction until absolutely necessary. Its function is so critical that decades of hospital growth takes place around it; tucking it away in the oldest, deepest part of the hospital.

In the late 2000s, as hospitals recovered from the Great Recession and the Affordable Care Act came into play, many hospitals began improving their facilities. A number of facilities began building out previously shelled operating rooms to meet the demand for additional surgical procedures. This led to a greater load on the sterile processing department. The result triggered many hospitals to take a hard look at their space and procedures to find efficiencies and maximize the use of existing space. In 2018, the Joint Commission announced that sterile processing garnered much of their focus, which enhanced its priority for 2019.

Working with our clients to create spaces that support the patient experience, our team has identified important elements of sterile processing departments to help you know what to look for in your operation.

AMII/ANSI Code Updates Require Increased Air Changes 

There are a few different standards that need to be coordinated for sterile processing department designs. These differing standards have undergone revisions recently and are far more aligned now regarding the environmental and infrastructure requirements for the individual spaces, equipment, and processes. Notably, many sterile processing departments built under older codes and standards do not have adequate air-changes, proper temperature controls, and proper pressurization controls. Increasing the airflow can be difficult for older HVAC systems in both generation capacity and distribution volume.

Sterile Processing Upgrades Often Impact Steam Systems 

Like changing codes, the equipment available to perform various sterile processing department functions has improved over the years. However, they still have a significant impact on a facility’s electrical, steam, sanitary, control, and cooling systems. As the equipment quantity and capacity increases in support of the expanded surgical procedures, utilities serving the equipment must also be enhanced. Some utilities can be readily improved with minimal impact, while others may require greater effort to best accommodate the additional demand.

Humidity & Pressurization Requirements Are More Strict 

Regulatory agencies have indicated a focus on the sterile processing department during hospital reviews over the next few years. One common deficiency can be space pressurization. There should be a clear path of pressurization for these areas to ensure the dirty side stays dirty and the clean side stays clean. Authorities with jurisdiction are citing areas where the existing space walls and ceilings are not suitably “tight” to hold and control the space’s pressurization effectively. We are also seeing additional requirements to measure relative humidity values for the clean areas to ensure supplies are risk-free from contamination by condensation.

Henderson Engineers and Henderson Building Solutions have worked in sterile processing areas by designing and solving pressurization issues. Through these efforts, we’ve been able to help facilities pass certifications and improve their operations. If you have concerns regarding your sterile processing department, contact us for more information or to request a facility condition assessment.


This article originally appeared on Henderson Engineers’ website. Henderson Engineers is a CFE Media content partner.


Jon Flann
Author Bio: Jon is one of our healthcare practice leaders. He has a unique ability to see design holistically and anticipate the impact of building systems integration. Jon’s expertise enables him to be an advocate for owners and serve as a resource to construction partners. That’s why keeping up on trends in the industry comes naturally to him. Here at Henderson, Jon’s leads by example, setting the bar for our healthcare engineers with an elite level of customer service.