The past two monthly columns were devoted to feedback from hospital engineers who are trying to compete in an ever growing outsource environment. Having had the luxury to work for an outsource firm and now have facility engineers on staff who also worked in the outsource community of facility support services, I have some ideas to help in-house facility managers band together and outsmart the competition: Create an off-site engineering/technical support group and mirror the competition. Pool your resources with other hospitals in the vicinity. Meet with the other facility managers and create a list of technical needs and then find volunteers who will offer off-site support to answer questions and provide quarterly reporting for all the hospitals on the topic on which they are most proficient. Don’t forget to also document what the hospital executive would like to see for technical input if they were looking outside the hospital for this expertise. Remember, outsource firms can call in their technical experts on an as-needed basis, so why not mirror that business strategy?

Create a mobile unit with partnering hospitals to do infrequent tasking (e.g., filter changes) and mirror the competition. Join forces with another hospital facility group to create a mobile unit that would frequent each hospital on a prescheduled basis. Changing filters is an idea example to try first since every hospital has this need. If one hospital provided the mobile unit van and another hospital provided the filter replacement person, this individual could serve several facilities two or four times a year. Not much of an investment when you consider the alternative, finding someone on staff who can afford the time to do their own filter changes. Remember, outsource firms use this concept to out-task select activities. They also use the mobile unit concept to add help at peak periods of work.

Create a strategy to have collective purchasing power and mirror the competition. Join forces with another hospital facility group to purchase large quantities of goods that each hospital has in common. Using filter replacement again as a good example, consider soliciting bids that would include several hospitals filter needs. A simple inventory of filter type, quantity, frequency of purchases, and delivery location may be all that is needed. Remember, outsource firms use this business strategy and market it as one more reason why they are so cost-effective.

Create a central benchmarking source and mirror the competition. Team up with another hospital facility group and provide engineering expertise or out-task this engineering requirement to monitor and measure the pertinent operating budget along with the other hospitals. Instead of keeping facility performance to yourself, share this information for the good of all the hospitals. Remember, outsource firms use this information to their advantage when operating buildings, as well as soliciting new business.

Create a central preventive maintenance work order system and mirror the competition. Provide a single preventive maintenance work order system or out-task this computerized work activity through your collaboration with another hospital facility group. Instead of each facility trying to be computer literate with computerized maintenance management software (CMMS), let the individual most qualified to perform this work be responsible for producing all the planned work requests. Remember, outsource firms can send all the work orders out via e-mail from one site to several facilities where their technicians pick up and respond to the proactive requests.

Create a website that focuses on the marketing of the hospital facility group services and mirror the competition. Through your partnership with another hospital facility group, proactively sell what support services has done and/or will be doing in this fiscal year. Here again, this may be something that the facility group wants to out-task to a computer-literate individual who is proficient in the development of websites. At the same time, seek out someone who has experience in marketing services. Remember, not only is the competition using marketing professionals, your own hospital has a marketing consultant to sell the hospital services. If you don’t believe me, take a look at that slick new logo your hospital invested in recent years.

Partnerships in the hospital industry have become quite common, although not necessarily successful. With each business venture comes a culture change that merging hospital executives have not always recognized ahead of time. Embracing change and coexistence between hospitals has proven to be difficult to make happen on numerous occasions. As a result, many hospitals continue to struggle to be financially successful. While hospital executives’ struggle with the dilemma that they may have created, the facility managers of these hospitals can’t wait around to see if everything is going to work out as envisioned when the partnership began. Facility managers need to do what they can to join forces or face the consequences.