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Engineered to Make a Difference


Engineering week

By Hermann McKenzie, MBA, CHSP, Director of Engineering, Standards Interpretation Group

I am admittedly biased about the contribution of engineers in the health care landscape, but it strikes me that every single member of the health care team – doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and support staff – relies on a properly maintained physical environment.

It’s National Health Care Facilities and Engineering Week and time to recognize the individuals that ensure our facilities are safe, comfortable and support the healing environment. The theme of this year’s week is “Engineered to Make a Difference” and it couldn’t be more applicable to the health care engineers and facilities staff I know.

Did you know that The Joint Commission employs seven Life Safety Code Engineers in the Standards Interpretation Group? These individuals’ entire focus is on the physical environment at our accredited organizations. Our Life Safety Code Surveyor Engineers travel throughout the country conducting field surveys.

When you hear about “patient safety issues”, one rarely thinks about the environmental details that can impact patient safety and quality, including:

  • emergency power supply/generators
  • pediatric security
  • combustible postings 
  • hazardous materials and waste
  • exit signage
  • fire-rated vision panels

Physical Environment Protection During a Pandemic
The relationship between engineering and infection control has never been so important. Back in 2019, I blogged on the importance of consulting infection control directors early during construction projects. Earlier in my career, I worked on a team that coordinated with infection control to ensure that patients’ eye surgeries weren’t negatively affected by a nearby construction project. Very precise surgeries in the eye cannot be performed in buildings with any kind of vibration and trained engineers/facilities managers are the ones who can help clinicians avoid a negative outcome.

During COVID-19, health care facility personnel and engineers were absolutely indispensable in modifying the “built environment” within health care facilities. This took on a new meaning last year and kept engineers and building maintenance personnel busy redesigning the flow of the emergency department (ED) to keep patients with COVID-19 away from patients without symptoms, design new entrances or wings, and calculate the risks of traditional ventilation systems.

These professionals contributed so much over the last year and a half and still work front and center in keeping up with the changing recommendations during the pandemic.

New Educational Opportunities
Lifelong learning is a cornerstone of engineering and maintenance. This is actually one of my favorite aspects of the job.

I hope you will consider joining some of the upcoming webinars hosted by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering next week, including:

Patient Wings: Accommodating Negative Pressure Modes for Pandemics. Oct. 26, 12-1 p.m. CT
Building Electrification: The New Frontier for Building Performance. Oct. 26, 1-2 p.m. CT
Critical Partnerships: Infection Prevention and Facility Management, Oct. 28, 12-1 p.m. CT
Improving Domestic Hot Water System Safety, Delivery and Management, Oct. 28, 12-1 p.m. CT. This is a very hot topic right now. Stay tuned for more on water management from The Joint Commission in the coming weeks.

Again, thank you for all you do, during the pandemic and always. 

Herman McKenzie is currently the director, Department of Engineering in the Standards Interpretation Group at The Joint Commission. Mr. McKenzie has more than 25 years of health care experience having held managerial and director level roles in clinical engineering, plant operations and facilities services throughout the Chicagoland area. He was part of the team that opened the first new hospital in Illinois in over 25 years.