The primary focus of any healthcare facilities management (HFM) department is to ensure an exceptional environment of care along with the safety and security of both patients and staff.

As the COVID-19 pandemic nears its conclusion, and as technology continues to progress, managing healthcare facilities is becoming increasingly important – and increasingly challenging to manage. Whether it's maintaining certification compliance or ensuring cybersecurity, a facilities manager's job is only getting more complex.

What is Healthcare Facilities Management?

Healthcare facilities management is the maintenance and oversight of a healthcare facilities' development, maintenance, security and operations. This includes any building that provides healthcare services, such as clinics, long-term facilities, surgical centers and hospitals, and covers every aspect of facility upkeep.

What Are the Functions of a Healthcare Facilities Management/Plant Operations department?

The facilities management department – often abbreviated as HFM – is responsible for supervising the maintenance, operations and overall security of healthcare facilities. This ranges from overseeing large construction projects and maintaining federal compliance down to everyday cleaning, maintenance and upkeep.

The following are six essential functions and responsibilities of healthcare facilities management:

1. Managing Day-to-Day Operations

Day-to-day operations for facilities managers include:

  • Establishing safety policies and maintenance programs
  • Identifying needs for repairs or renovations
  • Overseeing the design of new construction
  • Coordinating contractors for building repairs and construction to ensure code compliance
  • Keeping tabs on the state of medical equipment and supplies
  • Ensuring legislative and facility compliance
  • Performing regular life safety and fire safety assessments
  • Performing inspections of medical gas, refrigeration, and HVAC systems
  • Ensuring that all buildings meet security standards
  • Overseeing utilities management and electrical engineering
  • Inspecting patient rooms, waiting rooms, operating rooms, etc. for cleanliness and orderliness
  • Purchasing and install furniture and equipment
  • Inspecting buildings to identify existing or emerging structural issues
  • Creating and maintain budgets related to facilities operations
  • Negotiating service agreements with outside suppliers and service providers
  • Managing workplace safety and cleanliness awareness initiatives

While HFM professionals may not personally handle each of these responsibilities, they typically serve as the day-to-day manager, overseer, and final word for broad decision-making.

2. Compliance and Certification

Maintaining certification and building compliance is critical to the success of any healthcare organization and is one of the paramount responsibilities of any facilities manager. Facility Managers are required to ensure facilities compliance with laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and manage the continual upkeep of certifications and accreditations, like those issued by The Joint Commission.

3. Ensuring a High-Quality Environment of Care

In line with the mission of any healthcare facility is ensuring a safe and reliable Environment of Care (EoC) for patients. This includes any healthcare site where patients are treated, for both inpatient and outpatient settings. The primary goal of the EoC is to provide a safe and efficient environment for patients and staff members.

HFM teams are tasked with performing routine inspections to identify and address any areas of concern in and around healthcare facilities, such as:

  • Fire monitoring
  • Emergency Power
  • Water management
  • Air management

HFM teams frequently work closely with hospital leadership to craft detailed EoC plans and policies that ensure the safety and well-being of patients, visitors and staff.

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4. Managing Construction Projects

While facilities management teams may not directly handle or lead construction projects, they are heavily involved throughout the construction process and responsible for ensuring that projects stay on time and budget.

Healthcare facilities professionals are also tasked with managing capital plans for future facility investment and ongoing upkeep of facilities and assets.

5. Maintaining Security

Within the healthcare industry at large, security continues to be a high priority. For facilities managers, this can include managing:

  • Access – Who gets in and out of a healthcare building.
  • Surveillance – Real-time, visual documentation, as well as heat and foot traffic maps.
  • Equipment Safety – Maintaining data privacy and integrity, including patient data and electronic medical records.

As the healthcare industry increases its reliance on technology and moves into the cloud, the need for increased cybersecurity skyrockets. With the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming commonplace within hospitals, facilities management teams are working alongside IT to create cybersecurity plans that will ensure patient care data is protected from hackers who may exploit equipment with older operating software as a pathway into the organization’s networks to steal sensitive patient information and research data, or to disable systems that may compromise the safety of facilities and equipment.

According to Becker’s Hospital Review, these are a significant risk for the industry, with the volume and intensity of cyberattacks on hospitals and health systems having increased during the second half of 2020 and experts believing there are more to come.

In fact, on Nov. 16, 2020, the federal government issued a cybersecurity warning to healthcare providers about "credible, ongoing and persistent" threats.

It is critical that anyone working in healthcare facilities management stay informed and aware of these types of attacks, and work closely with their IT teams to secure and monitor their devices for potentially exploitable flaws.

6. Preventive Maintenance

Hospital maintenance is a complex task for any team, especially if current methods are based on a reactive maintenance policy.

By implementing preventive maintenance programs, HFM team are able to handle routine maintenance before issues occur, reducing the number of requests they receive and extending the life of their assets, ensuring equipment is working at maximum performance. It can also lead to:

  • Reduced equipment downtime
  • Improved safety for staff and patients
  • Increased labor efficiency by maintenance workers
  • Extended equipment life
  • Lower maintenance and purchasing costs

Additionally, healthcare organizations have been given authority by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to implement defensible alternative equipment maintenance (AEM) programs, which allows a healthcare facility to adjust its maintenance, inspection and testing frequency for facility and medical equipment from what is recommended by the manufacturer based on a risk-based assessment by qualified personnel. By adopting AEM programs, providers can save significant resources without sacrificing patient safety and care throughout.

The “New Normal” for Hospital Facility Management

Facility maintenance and plant operations play a significant role in patient and provider safety. An exceptional facilities maintenance staff -- one that combines an understanding of patient care and technological solutions -- can help prevent the spread of disease and ensure compliance and security for any hospital.

As many organizations push for a rapid return to “normal,” hospital facility management leaders face a hard reality that they may never be a return to the old normal. For many hospitals, the path to an informed, modern facilities management team is becoming more complicated. From shrinking margins to an aging workforce, hospitals increasingly face issues that at best threaten their overall functionality and efficiency, and at worst, threaten patient care.

Healthcare systems are employing a variety of strategies to combat shrinking margins and rising costs. Many hospitals have reduced costs and efficiencies at the margins of their organizations. Still, long-term sustainability may require a fundamental digital transformation of how services are organized and delivered.

A modern healthcare and hospital facility management solution can help.

Final Thoughts

Healthcare facility management continues to be a cornerstone for providing the best patient care possible. Whether it’s by maintaining day-to-day operations or leading cybersecurity initiates, healthcare facilities managers can help move healthcare organizations into the future.

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