One thing that all 13,902 surgeries performed at Roper Hospital last year had in common was a need for surgical instruments. And each piece used was painstakingly prepared by the Sterile Processing Department (SPD).
Without that service, there would be no surgeries at Roper.
“These are unsung heroes behind the scenes that allow surgeries to go off as planned,” said Director of Perioperative Services Lisa Horvath.
Pieces come together
The 16-teammate department, which operates out of two locations on the first and second floor, processed more than 91,000 instrument-filled trays in 2013. Stainless steel scissors and knives underwent an hours-long sterilization process that included multiple washings, hand sorting and a good baking at 270 degrees.
All that led to a surgical site infection rate of less than 1 percent.
“Everything we do affects every surgical patient,” said SPD supervisor Tony Alexander. “And our department works to provide quality to all of them 24/7.”
Making it happen
The SPD is coming off its busiest December ever, a month that typically presents the heaviest workload. In addition to the hospital operating rooms, the SPD provides sterile supplies for the Emergency department, Respiratory units, ICUs and others.
A single surgery can require up to 10 trays, which include 15 – 60 instruments, and everything must be thoroughly sanitized and properly packaged to ensure ease of use once it arrives in an operating room.
It’s a painstaking task that SPD teammates take seriously.
“You have to make sure when you get items that everyone is clean and every instrument is working properly,” said Beverly Rivers, a sterile processing tech. “We thoroughly inspect the instruments, make sure the set is complete and working, then seal it in a container or wrap it.”
Used surgical tools are run through an initial wash then cleaned by hand and sorted by techs like Rivers. Once readied, they’re placed in special containers or wrapped, heated to extremely high temperatures and allowed to dry and cool on racks in a dedicated room. Special tape holding the packaged materials together changes color to indicate that the sterilization was thorough.
There is, of course, hours-worth of work on the line with each tray that comes through, but Rivers, who has been with RSF for the past four years, said she doesn’t feel the heat.
“(I’m) not nervous,” she said. “You just make sure you do your job properly.”