Empty hospital corridor

Health care system maintenance works beyond the hospital bed

Empty hospital corridorWhat comes to mind when you think of a health care facility? Some may think about the patients they know inside those facilities, or past experiences as patients themselves. Others may think about doctors, nurses and other professionals who provide direct patient care.

Very few, though, think about the complex design of the building or the unique electrical, ventilation, medical gas, fire safety or plumbing systems. You may not consider the specialized paints, flooring, surfaces, ceiling tiles, doors, walls and lighting systems that protect the most vulnerable.

Present-day health care facilities consist of interconnected buildings, sometimes miles apart. Health care system administration is further complicated by regional weather or environmental risks (e.g., cold, heat, humidity, dryness, hurricanes, tornados, fires and earthquakes). When tasked to provide comfort and shelter for diverse patient populations, health care facilities maintenance personnel must be trained to meet high standards.

Few opportunities exist for facilities maintenance personnel to gain professional knowledge and skills. And, in some regions, individuals working in this profession receive lower salaries than the commercial tradespersons outside of these facilities. Human resource department salary surveys across the state of Kentucky’s hospitals in recent years confirm this trend. This combination makes it difficult to recruit and retain a younger workforce and leads to higher turnover.

A credential and a pathway

An academic and professional development training program in Kentucky seeks to bridge the gap for new and experienced facilities maintenance personnel. From Owensboro Community and Technical College (OCTC), the Healthcare Facilities Technician (HFT) certificate and, from Institute for Healthcare Facilities Engineering Advancement (IHFEA), the Certified Healthcare Facilities Technician (CHFT) certification are built around six foundational health care facilities competencies:

  • Medical gas
  • Electrical
  • Ventilation
  • Life safety
  • Infection prevention
  • Health care department features

These competencies integrate general building maintenance with a foundational understanding of the unique health care environment of health care. The competencies are supported by safety, compliance and regulation standards combined with direct operational application. They also address serious historical issues identified by accrediting and regulatory bodies.

HFT & CHFT credentials integrate remote learning with applied work experience.

Remote learning deepens the experiential learning, while also addressing requirements to provide competency-based training. These credentials establish a common standard among health care facilities locally, regionally and nationally. Key to the design and delivery of the HFT & CHFT pathway is providing equal access for remote and underserved personnel. With the ability to reach rural and underserved facilities, the programs provide a recruiting, internship and development pathway for local high school and community college students, as well as those transitioning from the military.

Nocti Business Solutions

Nocti Business Solutions (NBS), sister company to NOCTI, addresses industry needs. In collaboration with IHFEA, NBS/NOCTI led efforts to develop, test, validate and implement the CHFT credential. Alignment with a recognized personnel accrediting body like NBS/NOCTI affirmed the credibility of the new programming.

With a diverse portfolio of credential content development, NBS/NOCTI share pertinent success strategies and formulations. This translated well during the exam, pilot, blueprint and handbook steps.

NBS/NOCTI also brought to the table a sense of encouragement and excitement to be a part of the process. Together, the partners shared a genuine desire for success.

Interest in the HFT and CHFT continues to grow.

Approximately 200 individuals from around the country will take the CHFT in 2021. OCTC continues to accept applications for the HFT program. The pilot class began in spring of 2021 with more than 30 students. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) expects to approve the HFT program in the spring of 2022.

Several health care organizations are working with their leadership to incorporate both the HFT and CHFT into developmental pathways for existing and new facilities personnel.

CHFT launched in February 2020. And it’s easy to understand the direct impact COVID-19 had on the ability of health care to focus on much else. Personnel development and training budgets diminished as health care systems limited outpatient services. At the same time, the pandemic emphasized an even greater need for a pipeline of well-trained facilities personnel. Staffing was affected by illness, quarantines and early retirements.

For facilities maintenance personnel, remote competency-based education supports professional credentialing that meets the needs and training requirements of health care organizations. The education is provided free nationally through monthly webinars, where attendees engage in exercises and assessments with issued certificates. Those registered to take the CHFT (or are certified) access the training library at no additional charge.

These circumstances created a movement to adopt remote learning as a reasonable form of competency-based training. The model promises to advance recruitment, development and retention — particularly in rural or underserved communities. OCTC & IHFEA look forward to moving past these COVID-restricted days with a standardized development pathway that prioritizes the individual and patients they serve.

Mike Canales is president of the Institute for Healthcare Facilities Engineering Advancement.

Anne Gielczyk is vice president of Nocti Business Solutions.