The COVID-19 pandemic seemingly has upended almost everything, from the way schools operate to the way people gather with friends and family. It also has been the ultimate stress test for many healthcare facilities, which bore a massive responsibility to care for and treat patients who were severely ill with this disease in addition to those needing standard medical care.
It is no secret that rules, regulations and standards in healthcare are often painted with broad brush strokes as cumbersome red tape or a tangled web of bureaucracy. But they serve a valuable role in hospitals and healthcare facilities because they are necessary to keep patients, staff and visitors safe from myriad risks within the physical environment.
Now that more than two years have passed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, how did this public health crisis that changed the way many Americans work and learn impact compliance standards? The answer is simple: not much. But it did demonstrate the reasons compliance standards are valuable.
Compliance is critical
The necessity for compliance became widely apparent at the onset of the pandemic as healthcare facilities sprang into action to slow the spread of the illness and found ways to keep hospitals open and functional. It became abundantly clear to healthcare leaders that compliance standards work and should remain a cornerstone within facilities.
But leaders' focus toward them has changed. Hospitals across the country relied heavily on these standards to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases throughout facilities. For instance, doctors and nurses have long been required to wear face masks during patient procedures. But facing the reality that COVID-19 is transmissible through airborne particles heightened the awareness of the ease with which a disease can permeate a facility.
COVID-19 wreaked havoc on supply chains across the globe, impacting everything from toilet paper to microchips. Healthcare facilities were not spared and found themselves facing similar challenges where they could not procure necessary supplies, such as personal protective equipment, because they sourced those materials from one vendor. Many leaders learned that to remain compliant, they needed to diversify their supply chains so if one vendor is unable to provide them with the needed tools, they have another relationship to lean on.
During this time, healthcare leaders caught in situations where they were locked into one or very few pipelines to supply their hospitals were forced to shut down or drastically limit their services until they could source proper materials. Health systems cannot afford to be inoperable because they are cornerstones of communities that rely on them for life-saving medical care. They serve a profound purpose, making the need for leaders to diversify vendor relationships that much more important.
A role, not a responsibility
Working professionals might wear many different hats as part of their jobs, and it might be necessary for that particular job. But employees responsible for overseeing compliance, standards are not just a responsibility. As COVID-19 showed us, compliance standards play a vital role in keeping patients and healthcare staff out of harm’s way.
Standards also are periodically updated, and facilities need to follow suit to remain compliant. Delegating an employee to oversee compliance standards for a facility should not be an additional responsibility piled on myriad others that this person is tasked to handle.
Healthcare leaders always strive to push facility managers to educate their teams on the most up-to-date standards and the reasons they are important and should be followed. The COVID-19 pandemic was the ultimate litmus test and real-world example for hospital compliance standards because they helped keep the doors open when communities needed them the most.
Sara Barker is vice president of corporate support services with Medxcel, where she is responsible for the oversight and operational performance of key corporate support divisions. She has 15 years experience in the supply chain, sourcing and procurement industry.
Jack Evans is the director of regulatory compliance with Medxcel, providing regulatory compliance leadership across more than 160 hospitals in the United States, including the areas of facilities engineering, environment of care safety, emergency management and construction safety.
Christopher Haas is director of life safety and compliance for Medxcel. The compliance team provides regulatory support in the areas of facilities engineering, environment of care safety and construction safety.