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Saving lives behind-the-scenes

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Interview with Damien Berg, Past President, International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM)

At Patient Safety, Damien Berg, Past President, International Association of Healthcare Central Service Materiel Management (IAHCSMM); Regional Manager Sterile Processing, UCHealth, Colorado, U.S. will discuss his unconventional sterile processing journey – from a sterile processing tech in the military in the early 2000s, to a past president of IAHCSMM, a member of ISO, and an international speaker and traveller, who continues to be an operational manager.

In an interview with Omnia Health Magazine, he said: “I love what I do and don't want to get out of this field. At Patient Safety, I am looking forward to sharing my unconventional journey of leadership and development with the world. I often get asked what are some takeaways? How did you get where you are? And how can I get there? What are some tips? So, that's what I'm going to present with passion.”

Currently, Berg runs the day-to-day operations of two large hospitals in northern Colorado, and a surgery centre. “I got bit by the sterile processing bug early. Over the years, I have been writing policies and procedures for the industry and have immersed myself in all the regulatory aspects of sterile processing. I have also received Lean training, which I have applied to sterile processing,” he shared.

His stint as the president of IAHCSMM began in 2017 and ended in May this year, but he continues to work closely with the agency as well as others around the world.

“I do everything that all the other sterile processing managers do,” he said. “But in my spare time, I give lectures, write papers, do reviews and work with AAMI and ISO. It's just a non-stop passion for me! My passion is also to highlight the need to invest in people and departments that do such a critical job to save patients’ lives behind-the-scenes and provide world-class reprocessing. I am working with international organisations and being an “ambassador” for sterile processing and hope to share the global as well as the U.S. perspective with my counterparts around the world.”

Impact of COVID-19 on sterile processing

When COVID-19 struck initially, operating rooms essentially shut down for elective surgeries. The impact was immense, said Berg, as from 40 to 50 surgeries a day at each of his facilities, it came down to doing three to five. There were also questions about how to de-contaminate effectively. “We got those answers relatively quickly based on science and evidence-based practices. We were able to be that resource for the hospital to say that we have got this covered and that they don't need to worry about sterile processing as our practices and processes will render this Instruments safe.”

He said that due to the shortage of PPE and the impacts on the supply chain, hospitals had to get inventive and formed alliances with other hospitals. Berg elaborated: “I reached out to competitor hospitals said I have got a surplus of this stuff. What do you have? As they may have what I needed. So, we did a little trading and it worked out well. It changed how we thought about sterile processing – not working in silos just in our department but working for the whole hospital. We also put our technicians in other departments to help with cleaning and disinfection and getting the equipment back to the patient's bedside quickly, which allowed our care providers to focus solely on taking care of patients.”

Tech to the rescue

Berg emphasised that one of the things that everybody was tasked with across the globe was how to reprocess N95 masks. To achieve this, a lot of methods were discussed such as low-temperature vaporization peroxide, UV sterilisation, steam or heat, or dry heat. But there was not a lot of research or studies available nor was there clearance from the U.S. FDA for that type of reprocessing of that device.

“We took advantage of modern technology, but used it in different applications, based off the science, studies and researches that were available at the time,” he said. “I was part of a whitepaper review in Europe regarding trying to test different method modalities on the N95 mask. What technologies can kill COVID-19? Is it safe for the end-user to breathe? Will the mask start to deteriorate from UV processing? Or will it lose its fit through steam? I think when we discuss advancements in technology, what we need to do is look at our existing technologies differently.”

He explained that the emergency use authorization from the FDA allowed hospitals to do things they normally wouldn't be able to do because it was either that or nothing. Also, 3D printed devices were another breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19. “Brilliant minds around the world started coming up with concepts such as a 3D printed COVID-19 swabs and it raised questions around how could these be sterilised? I am working with different companies trying to figure that out. I am excited about the future that will be shaped by these technologies.”

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Berg will be speaking on ‘The unconventional CSSD journey – Lessons in leadership and development’, on Saturday, 7 November at Patient Safety

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