A few months ago, I had the opportunity to address approximately 80 facility engineers from the hospital industry on the topic of staffing, benchmarking, and dealing with outsourcing. The interaction between us was very interesting, as it was evident to me that these facility managers had a lot to say about the “state-of-the-state” relative to managing the healthcare business.

The first topic of discussion addressed the active merging and partnering among many of the hospitals. Even with strategic business plans to regroup and reorganize, hospitals continue to fail. It was noted that in one state, 16 out of 31 hospitals would be “in the red” by year’s end. This downturn in business resulted in the following observations by the participants:

  • It’s not just support services departments that are in trouble. All the internal hospital groups are facing cutbacks.
  • More partnering with consultants is needed to find cost-effective answers to departmental issues.
  • All departments need to find new ways to do business.
  • Hospitals need to improve purchasing power.
  • “Flagship” hospitals need to provide more support to other hospitals.
  • ASHE (American Society of Hospital Engineers) has an open Chat Line to assist and support facility groups.
  • There is an increased focus on “customer service” by facility groups along the lines of hotel environment and customer service.

A three-prong question was presented to the seminar participants by asking about operation and maintenance:

  • What does O&M support services consider to be their primary function?

  • What does your hospital executive consider to be O&M support service’s primary function?

  • What does an outsource O&M support services firm consider its primary function?

The facility managers considered their responsibilities to be:

  • A focus on O&M.
  • Maintenance of safety, comfort, function, and environment.
  • Maintenance of heating, cooling, and keeping the lights on.
  • Providing system reliability.
  • Staying within the operating budget.
  • Continuing to provide value upkeep and capital project implementation.
  • Keeping company (hospital) on-line.
  • Compliance with regulatory agencies.
  • Customer satisfaction.

The facility managers’ responses to question #2 “What does your hospital executive consider to be O&M support service’s primary function?” were:

  • Everything that can’t be given to someone else.
  • Instant response.
  • Maintaining heat, cooling, and keeping lights on, and meeting operating budget.
  • View support services as a utility.
  • No negative feedback — everything O.K.
  • Support services needs to communicate well with everyone else.
  • Understand what each department needs.
  • Caregivers, (doctors, nurses, etc.) roles are becoming more narrowly defined while everything else is delegated (shed it) to support services.
  • See support services as principal problem solvers (doesn’t seem to be participation by others in the hospital.)
  • Money becomes available when regulatory agencies visit.
  • Implementing JCAHO improvement plans.
  • Support services is only about 4% of the total budget that the executive is looking at, but support services’ capital cost projects can encompass the majority of the operating budget (over 50%).

The facility managers’ responses to question #3 “What does an outsource O&M support services firm consider its primary function?” were:

  • Profitability (the support services firm’s).
  • Meeting minimum needs.
  • “We Serve” – providing an answer to problems.
  • Saving money and providing reliability.
  • “Not in Contract.”
  • Improving employee morale.
  • In a position to guarantee cost and outcome.

Next month, I will continue with more feedback from the hospital engineers who attended this seminar.