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Brooke Army Medical Center Takes Action To End Shortage Of Sterile Equipment

Carson Frame / TPR News
Lt. Col. Trish O'Neal-Mellen displays sterilization equipment at Brooke Army Medical Center

This past spring, commanders at the Army health system's flagship Brooke Army Medical Center shut down operating rooms and curtailed elective surgeries due to a shortage of sterile equipment. They've since taken steps to fix the problem.

BAMC’s Sterile Processing and Distribution division is charged with sterilizing all instruments for in and outpatient surgeries and procedures throughout the hospital and outlying clinics. The division sterilizes about 14,000 surgical instrument sets every month.

Earlier this year, that division lost about a third of its employees —nearly 20 people in all — for reasons like retirement and attrition. At the same time, BAMC faced a hiring freeze, which led to a backlog of dirty surgical instruments.

“We had a lot of changes,” said Lt. Col. Trish O’Neal-Mellen, chief of Sterile Processing and Distribution. “Everything was hitting the fan at once.”

BAMC has since beefed up its sterile processing staff by 24 people, increased the presence of leadership, and made changes to its shift structure.

It also instituted improvements to its already intensive sterilization process, including increased quality checks, equipment additions and updates, and a closely monitored tracking system for surgical sets.

O'Neal-Mellen said the change has been like night and day.

“We've gone forward,” she said. “We've gone beyond just fixing a problem. We're looking at all the processes that contributed to it. And we're trying to make sure that we never get there again.”

BAMC is back to averaging 65 to 70 surgical cases per day.

Carson Frame can be reached at carson@tpr.org or on Twitter @carson_frame

Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame