25 in a Million

At Backus Hospital, the sterile processing team passes the 1M mark

Story by Elissa Bass

TEAMWORK: Back row – Mark Milikin, Angel Potter, Greg Conde, Antony Pizzoferrato, Brandon Matros (SPD Educator). Front row – Karla Cruz, Traci Murray, Cheryl Reed, Will Mosley. Ken Harrison Photo.

When your team provides one of the most critical services to two hospitals but the nature of the work makes them pretty much invisible, how do you keep them motivated?

“It’s very difficult,” says Beth Strmiska, manager for sterile processing at Backus and Windham hospitals. “We really don’t get accolades from patients. Nurses get thanked, doctors get thanked. The people who sterilize everything really don’t.”

That’s despite the fact that, in 2023, the 25-member team sterilized more than 1 million instruments at Backus alone, from operating room trays to surgical robots.

“We dropped everything and made that happen. When the patient walked out a week later, healthy, I made sure the team knew about it. I told them, ‘We OWN This.’” — Beth Strmiska, Sterile processing manager

If there is a mistake and something isn’t patient ready, “that can delay or cancel a case, or worse,” Strmiska says.

“Patient safety is always top of mind. Our instruments are our direct patient contact. We have every check and balance you can imagine.”

She takes great pride in their error rate — .005, the lowest across Hartford HealthCare.

To keep the team motivated, Strmiska created a program called “We Own This.” She scours the hospitals for patient stories reflecting her team’s great work, shares them and they celebrate. For example, treatment for one Emergency Department patient took 25 separate sterile pans.

We dropped everything and made that happen. When the patient walked out a week later, healthy, I made sure the team knew about it. I told them, ‘We Own This.’ There were no complications because of the work we did,” she says.

In October 2023, when the team passed the 1 million mark, they also celebrated.

We achieved it right at the start of Sterile Processing Week,” she says. “The Cabinet came and celebrated with us!” Their work touches many hospital departments, Strmiska continues.

“Yes, it’s the OR, ER and labor and delivery,” she says. “But we do all the floor trays, diagnostic imaging, wound care, vascular offices, endoscopy offices, women’s health, plastic surgery and any doctors’ offices where they do minor procedures.

“It can be as simple as forceps or a pair of scissors, but the complexity goes all the way to the DaVinci, Mako and Globus robots. With some flexible scopes, there are more than 100 steps to clean one. There are computer chips and fiber optics. For orthopedics, there are power tools used in the OR.”

For every single item requiring sterilization, there are instructions to disassemble and reassemble, the sterilization mode required, and what chemicals to use.

“We have to always be aware of the difference between instruments,” Strmiska says. “It all changes as technology changes and as companies make changes. We have to stay on top of all that.”

Because technology changes so quickly, many instruments are actually rented, Strmiska explains. Her team works with representatives from about 20 companies to stay informed and educated.

SterileStats

  • 1 Millimeters, the smallest fixation screw in a surgical set. The largest is 150mm.
  • 3 Hours it takes to clean one “endowrist,” or arm, on a DaVinci robot. It takes another three hours to prep and sterilize it. Each DaVinci surgical case uses six to 10 endowrists.
  • 8 Different types of chemistries used in the East Region for cleaning and disinfection/sterilization. Some are alkaline, some acidic, some neutral and colleagues have to know which one to use for the appropriate application.
  • 40 Minimum pieces in a pediatric bronchoscope, the most pieces in any instrument the team cleans. The piece must be taken apart for cleaning and then reassembled.
  • 100 Minimum steps needed to clean and disinfect a channeled flexible scope. Staff must memorize the steps and there can be no deviations in order or skipped steps.
  • 600 Approximate number of instruments, screws, plates and wires, some of which measure just 2mm, in a Synthes food fixation surgical set. Add another 230 line items to that for a complete set.
  • 35,000 Surgical sets and singles processed for the DaVinci, Globus and Mako robotic systems at Backus in 2023.

Christine Sniadack-Lopez broke the glass ceiling — now she helps Hartford HealthCare create innovative spaces that are Here to Heal

Story by Hilary Waldman

Christine Sniadack-Lopez has overseen 60 construction projects in the past three years. Photo by Chris Rakoczy.

Now and then, Christine Sniadack-Lopez will be inspecting a construction site when a well-meaning laborer asks if she is lost. Perhaps he didn’t notice the hardhat she’s wearing with the HHC logo.

“Nope,’’ she answers cheerfully.

“Nice to meet you. I’m your project manager.”

At 34, Sniadack-Lopez is system director for ambulatory development. That means when Hartford HealthCare needs to build or renovate an outpatient site, she leads the project from concept to ribbon cutting.

Sniadack-Lopez has overseen 60 projects in the past three years as our system grows to provide more access and affordability. Projects range from freshening up a medical suite to ground-up creation of new health centers. Her biggest project to date was transforming the shuttered Toys ‘R’ Us in Waterford into a 70,000-square-foot health center.

Whether it’s a single room or entire building, her focus is always the same: create space as functional as it is beautiful for the safest, most frictionless experience for providers and patients.

It starts with understanding provider needs and how the space will function.

No detail is overlooked. She asks about cabinets – does the provider prefer doors or drawers? Do cabinets need locks? Where should the desk be placed? Desk placement determines where outlets should be for computers and phones.

“I meet with IT, quality and safety, infection prevention and bio-med,’’ she says. “All these partnerships are important because when you live in a space, it really has to work.”

Once design decisions are complete, she oversees construction, often visiting job sites where she tries to remember every tradesperson’s first name.

After 12 years, Sniadack-Lopez is comfortable in what remains largely a man’s world. While she’s frequently the only woman in the room, she feels she’s earned the respect she deserves.

“I’m thrilled to be a small part of changing the demographic in the construction industry and hopeful to see even more diversity in the future,” she says.

“You can really change the experience for a patient by changing the built environment.” — Sniadack-Lopez

Inspired by HGTV shows she watched in middle school, Sniadack-Lopez studied interior design at the University of Bridgeport, planning for a career in high-end residential design.

But choosing throw pillows and furniture for fancy homeowners was less fulfilling than she anticipated. Her foray into healthcare design was sparked by her mother, Linda Sniadack, who retired after 42 years as an Emergency Department nurse at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

When Christine was ready to graduate, someone in the hospital asked her mom if she’d be interested in an internship. Nobody mentioned healthcare careers in design school, but Sniadack-Lopez quickly recognized the connection.

“Think about how much better you feel in a beautiful setting,” she says. “You can really change the experience for a patient by changing the built environment.”

Sniadack-Lopez does not stop thinking about beautiful spaces when she leaves the office, and is always dreaming up projects for the Burlington home she shares with husband, David Lopez, an electrician and boiler plant operator at HOCC. They share a passion for Christmas. Last year, seven trees decorated their house – each with a different theme. She already has plans for Christmas 2024.