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Vet Gazette

Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine eNewsletter

The Pros in Central Sterile Are Not Dishwashers

June 23rd, 2017

Shelley Brown makes a quality check on the instrument washer.

Every Certified Veterinary Technician is trained to properly clean surgical instruments, but Shelley Brown and Ruth Mandsager take it to the next level.

Shelley Brown has worked in the Central Sterile department of the hospital for six years. She is solely responsible for cleaning and sterilizing all the dirty equipment that is generated daily by a very busy hospital. If that sounds fairly simple, it’s not. The job requires her to be a combination of mechanic, plumber, quality manager, chemical tester, and neat freak.

The Central Sterile department processes drapes, scrubs, towels, instruments, hardware, tubing, cannulas, and all the delicate electronic instruments used in minimally invasive surgeries. Brown handles every piece three to five times. Some things need more cleaning than others; some even need to be inspected under a microscope for wear and damage. Most things go through an ultrasonic cleaner and the instrument washer; but scopes cameras and drills must all be handwashed.

“Engineers have designed all these cool devices, but can they be cleaned?” says Brown. “They have to be sterilized so they can be used again and again.” That’s why the hospital doesn’t buy their orthopedic drills at Home Depot.  “I’ve got to be able to sterilize it at 270 degrees for ten minutes. What electronic equipment likes that?” she says.

With their narrow, six-foot long tubes, light and computer cables, and camera at the end, endoscopes are especially tricky to sterilize.  “The camera is immersible and autoclavable, but it is still delicate,” says Brown. “If you accidentally put something in the wrong machine, you can destroy a $5,000 scope.”

Brown is so committed to quality, she is working on a second certification in Central Sterile. Consequently, she is the only veterinary professional in attendance at human medical conferences on instrument sterilization. “I’m unique,” she says. “When I sign in, they say, ‘Oh you’re the veterinary person’.”

The conferences also provide Brown with colleagues who can discuss trouble shooting, which is an important part of her job. Whether an autoclave is acting up, or a dryer catches on fire, she has to be resourceful.

“I was having trouble with intermittent testing failures on the instrument washer and couldn’t figure out why, so I talked to the people at the conference,” she says. “They asked if I was priming the lines when refilling chemicals and I knew immediateley that was the problem; I was getting air bubbles in my lines. Our machine does not have the ability to prime lines so I had to figure out a way to get the chemicals in without introducing air.” She has not had a test failure since. Brown has also been known to deal with clogged drains and assist the OSU mechanic to locate a pressure valve problem. “You have to be a bit mechanically inclined because that’s how you solve the problem,” she says.

Ruth Mandsager is another long-time CVT who now works in Central Sterile. In the past, she worked in anesthesia and emergency care, but likes the slower pace. “This is different because I am all by myself and it’s quiet. Nothing dies back here; nothing poops on me back here,” she says. “I get burned occasionally but that’s not a big deal.”

Mandsager arrives at six in the morning and organizes the sterilized items that Shelley Brown cleaned the night before. She creates packs; everything from a tracheostomy pack with three or four instruments, to a soft-tissue surgery pack with 80 instruments. “I have a list of packs. I arrange those, make sure everything is in there that the surgery department wants. I double wrap it in blue paper and date it,” says Mandager. “It feeds my OCD. I get to have check lists and count things. I get to arrange them perfectly squared and clean. It makes me happy,” she laughs.

The morning shift also allows Mandsager to pursue her other career: actor. She just finished starring in Sweeny Todd at the Albany Civic Theater, and last year directed a successful run of The Full Monty at the Majestic Theater in Corvallis. “As a technician, I did another kind of acting. My job was to put on a pleasant face no matter what was happening,” she says. “Watching clients go through treatment with pets who were really sick got hard after twenty-two years. It’s challenging and exciting when you are young, but I’m very glad to be here now.”

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