Hospitals are under constant pressure to provide excellent patient care, meet numerous regulations, and control costs. It’s important for HVAC contracting companies to recognize the people side of the business when entering into agreements with such institutions. Understanding and coveting the value of relationships is an essential element of a lasting and successful partnership with hospital clients.
That’s the advice from Jonathan Flannery, senior associate director of advocacy for the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE). ASHE is a personal membership group of the American Hospital Association for individuals who are dedicated to providing an optimized health care physical environment. The society has nearly 12,000 members.
Flannery’s opinion carries significant weight, as he’s worked in and managed hospitals for more than 25 years.
“When I was a facility manager, it really helped me to work with contractors who understood the value of relationships,” Flannery said. “I needed to know that when the chips were down and I needed help, I could get it immediately. Getting immediate service is directly linked to the strength of the relationship. I’ve been fortunate to develop those types of relationships with many contractors in different parts of the country, and doing so has always proven to be mutually beneficial.”
Flannery suggested HVAC contractors can help build powerful relationships with hospital clients by meeting with the hospital’s facilities team to discuss any system operation issues, or even by providing training so the hospital’s team can handle minor issues that arise.
“I realize providing training to the hospital staff may actually take some money away from the contractor in the short term, but it really resonates with the hospitals’ administration when you do things to show you’re putting them and their patients’ needs first,” he said.
Flannery also suggested meeting with hospitals’ facilities managers on a routine basis just to ask how things are going and see if there’s anything they need help with. This helps hospitals recognize you’re a committed partner rather than someone whose face is only recognizable when problems arise.
Taking care of patients is always a hospital’s top priority, and patient safety can hinge on HVAC system performance — especially in protective environments such as operating or isolation rooms, noted Flannery. However, because of the state of health care financing, an important second priority is always cost control.
“Energy conservation is a huge issue for hospitals,” Flannery said. “HVAC contractors who can help hospitals reduce their energy consumption can be heroes. Hospitals use a number of staff categorized as full-time equivalents, or FTEs, and one of the quickest and easiest ways to cut budgets is by cutting FTEs. However, that’s not the best thing to do from a patient care standpoint, and hospitals would much rather benefit by cutting their Btu than FTEs.”
In addition, hospitals need contractors’ help in providing verification to regulatory agencies, such as the joint commission, that they’re complying with the necessary HVAC-related codes and standards.
When it comes to monitoring and verification, Flannery is a proponent of what he calls “continuous commissioning” by both the administration and the facilities staff. This means keeping a close eye on system performance on a daily basis.
“In the last facility I managed, I found having a daily dashboard was vital,” he said. “If you’re only checking HVAC system performance and energy consumption once in a while, you can have something in a bad state for days or weeks and not even know. You need to know how you’re doing today.”
In addition to keeping the facility in compliance and its systems running optimally, Flannery discovered an unexpected benefit of regular monitoring: The ability to identify and correct system overrides. In many cases, overrides are initiated as a temporary fix. However, they can become permanent at facilities that aren’t closely monitored.
“I’ve found throughout my career that, many times, an override will be initiated and forgotten,” Flannery said. “Maybe a technician couldn’t immediately identify a system problem, so he overrode it. Or, maybe someone overrode a schedule because it was a holiday. Whatever the case, when temporary overrides become a permanent part of a system’s operation, the end result over time is improper system performance. So, I set up a dashboard and communicated to the crew that I was going to be monitoring system overrides. We were able to dramatically reduce system overrides just by watching for them.”
Ultimately, hospital clients need and appreciate a relationship with a skilled HVAC contractor for a number of important reasons, including energy cost savings, patient safety, and regulatory compliance. For contractors, health care settings may provide a challenging and rewarding test of knowledge, innovation, and people skills.
Publication date: 11/2/2015