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Sterile Processing Staffing Woes

by Warren Nist

Sterile Processing staffing issues are not only continuing in the current marketplace but are growing at an alarming rate. Our recent conversations with hospitals indicate that staffing shortages are being filled with SPD travelers at 50%-75%. Articles on the retention of staff are becoming more commonplace. In August 2021, I wrote a blog on Managing Temporary Staff in Sterile Processing. At that time, the growth of travelers in the workplace demanded it. The pandemic is beginning to wane, and the Great Resignation is somewhat over; however, the issues of staffing permanent staff in Sterile Processing departments are not resolving themselves.

There is a multitude of issues driving this phenomenon. And don't kid yourself; this did not start recently. The issue of staffing has been building over the last decade. Staff are leaving sterile processing for several reasons. The technicians I have spoken with have indicated that they are unhappy about:

  • Lack of pay

  • Lack of growth opportunities

  • Lack of staffing/ feeling overworked

  • Lack of respect for what they do

These indicators are many of the reasons you need to manage for retention. However, pay has become a leading indicator of why staff leave the field or transfer into the traveling market. The team at Beyond Clean has been discussing wage issues in Sterile Processing over the last few years. The fact is that with minimum wage rates being raised and entry-level jobs across the nation now exceeding or matching rates being paid to sterile processing technicians, this issue is only going to deepen. Pay coupled with job dissatisfaction is a recipe for open positions. Travelers can get paid 1.5 to 2 times the wages that hospitals provide, and now some agencies offer benefits.

The lack of employee prospects with adequate training has become another reason Sterile Processing departments have open positions. With more and more hospitals requiring certification in sterile processing before hiring, the gap for prospective technicians has widened. Certification is certainly needed in the job. Patient safety is at risk without it. As with our blog last week, Dental's Dirty Little Secret, the problem of cross-contamination and the threat of disease is real. A complication to this issue is the unregulated process of sterile processing training. While several colleges offer sterile processing certification courses, many more small businesses do so too. Often, students are not well trained and then left to defend for themselves. HSPA statistics for pass/fail before 2019 was near 50%. In 2019, it dropped to around 30% for failed tests. CBSPD's fail rate had been fairly consistent at around 37%.

Sterile Processing departments and their administrative partners need to pivot and develop long-lasting plans to secure technicians and keep them employed. Developing sterile processing internal programs, as Surgical Services has done for nurses entering the OR with Periop 101 courses, or partnering with reputable training establishments for sterile processing certification programs is a partial solution. Creating growth plans and establishing a foundation for respect in the field is needed and needs to be supported by hospital administrators. Pay will continue to be a challenge. Hospital associations feared the certification process in sterile processing mainly because of the threat of wage increases. This fear did not prove itself in 2004 when New Jersey became the first state to require certification in the nation. But, times are changing on how the current workforce views this profession. Without this resource of educated and well-trained sterile processing technicians, hospitals will struggle with supporting the Operating Room, their patients, and their surgeons. Hospitals will continue to pay 3rd party providers of sterile processing technicians or revert back to nurses filling these job activities as they did before the 1980s. Either way, it is going to cost hospitals more if they failed to adapt to the changes needed in Sterile Processing. The greater downside of not developing this profession further will be in the quality of work this department provides.

At Evolved Sterile Processing, our consultants have a greater focus on sterile processing. With our decades of experience, we will help you develop better processes and educational resources for your staff.

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