Focus: Facility Design

Storage wards: Selecting the right storage, shelving and organization solutions in a healthcare environment

By Joe Schodowski / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
October 11, 2017

At a time when the healthcare industry is facing enormous financial, technical, logistical and regulatory pressures, worrying about what kind of shelves you are using might seem somewhat less than mission-critical.

The reality is that this seemingly mundane consideration can actually have a profound impact on the quality, utility and safety of healthcare spaces. In many healthcare facilities, proper organization behind the scenes can even be a difference-maker in ensuring a safe and positive patient experience. Consequently, everyone from healthcare construction and design professionals, to administrators and facilities professionals, to executives and decision-makers should understand and appreciate the value of safe, streamlined, and efficient storage and organization infrastructure.

Those same individuals should also be familiar with the unique challenges associated with storing and securing medicine, medical supplies and hazardous materials—and have a working understanding of the accepted tips and industry best practices for implementing proper storage and organizational methods.

As with any space, healthcare storage solutions need to balance the sometimes competing demands of space efficiency and accessibility, security, flexibility and mobility. A hospital is not a large retail center: there are unique and often challenging demands associated with the specialized substances, storage protocols and sanitation requirements of a healthcare environment.

Addressing those needs and achieving that type of order can be a daunting task. Consider the fact that employees need to be able to move through medicine cabinets and supplies in a logical manner to avoid delays, certain medical supplies need to be kept separate to avoid contamination or hazardous safety issues, and supplies need be kept in a sterile environment that reduces the risk of disease or sickness spreading.

Proper organization and storage–such as antibacterial and color coding shelving units–can ensure that these potential issues are kept at bay and don’t impact the staff’s ability to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. Proper storage and organization of supplies can also reduce waste by ensuring supplies get used in a timely manner before expiration dates. Efficient shelving units can save space and reduce the need for costly physical expansions. They can keep staff, medicine and critical supplies moving through the facility in an orderly fashion.

One of the key priorities for any healthcare facilities manager is making the best use of available space. In a healthcare environment, space is both precious and extremely expensive. To operate a modern healthcare facility, you need to dedicate as much square footage as possible to exam rooms, functional space and patient care. As a result, making good use of high-density mobile storage options is critically important. A high-density mobile shelving on a floor-mounted track system that can be manipulated to access different shelves is one way to pack a lot of storage power into a relatively compact area.

There are a variety of these types of shelving solutions that can help minimize your storage footprint. Another option is to have a ceiling-mounted track to facilitate more flexibility within your shelving system. Such a system is generally easier to install–and easier to move around if you need to relocate as needs change or space configuration/usage priorities evolve. One thing to keep in mind when considering such a setup is that typically those systems need to be a minimum of 18 inches below the fire suppression system or sprinklers (up to two feet in some instances). Custom wall-mounted cabinetry, while it doesn’t offer the flexibility of the sliding shelving options described above, is another popular way to maximize storage while freeing up floor space.

Sanitation and cleanliness is obviously a top priority in a healthcare setting. Healthcare facilities tend to prefer shelves that are open and easy to clean and keep sanitary–without a lot of hard-to-reach nooks and crevices that can accumulate bacteria or potentially infectious material. Specially built grated shelving systems with removable grates are a popular setup in healthcare. The best can hold a tremendous amount of weight (upwards of 800 to 1000 pounds), and yet be light enough to be easily removed for regular cleaning and sterilization. Many products are available with anti-microbial coatings, an excellent choice for medical settings. In some facilities, the bottom shelf of many units is solid stainless steel, to ensure that any leaking or drips do not land on the floor.

Staying organized in the chaos of a busy hospital or other healthcare facility can be a challenge. The right storage tools can help make that chaos a little more manageable. In an industry where there can be a great deal of inventory turnover–often with products and materials that have expiration dates that must be heeded, and substances that requires specialized storage–shelving and storage can help reduce waste, save money and improve patient safety.

Push-back racks—shelves that are designed to easily slide out—and first-in/last-out shelving designs that are easy to restock and cycle inventory forward—are all strong choices, especially for shorter lifespan items that need to be accessible, visible and turned over more quickly. It isn’t just pharmaceuticals and other specialized inventory that has to be considered: many hospitals feed and care for large amounts of people on an around-the-clock basis, and food storage and preparation areas can also benefit greatly from the right storage infrastructure.

One of the best ways to optimize organization is to increase flexibility, and multilevel utility carts and trolleys that are easy to clean and can be readily moved from one room (or one floor) to the next. These carts can also be color coded by use, and are an effective and creative way to eliminate the need for a lot of storage altogether.

In facilities where addictive, expensive and dangerous medications need to be secured and monitored, safety and security is also a priority. Part of that equation is using shelving made from high-quality materials and construction that has been certified by the National Safety Foundation (NSF). Quality is only one piece of the security puzzle. Many hospitals use color-coded shelves for certain medications. Specially designed shelving units enclosed within wire or metal caging is another common way for healthcare facilities to ensure that controlled substances or sensitive items are both accessible and secure.

While storage and shelving might not seem like a matter of life and death, the challenges of a healthcare environment make designing and integrating the right shelving and storage solutions critically important.

Joe Schodowski serves as CEO of Shelving, Inc., a provider of shelving and storage solutions for businesses. Visit for more information.

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