How Baylor St. Luke's converted an aging patient floor into a COVID-19 unit

As vice president of operations, Sal Ababneh's responsibilities include ensuring Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center is functional and profitable, anything from preparing financial reports and working on marketing strategies, to running a clinical department at the Houston-based hospital. 

But his duties have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic spread in the U.S.

To protect employees and in response to the need for more negative pressure rooms, the hospital administration began to look for creative ways to protect patients and staff, including making 3D-printed and reusable personal protective equipment available to employees and establishing reprocessing and sterilization protocols for N95 masks so employees would have a clean mask each day, Mr. Ababneh said in an interview with Becker's Hospital Review. The hospital also focused on converting a 50-year old patient floor to an 18-bed negative pressure COVID-19 unit using materials designed in-house and HEPA filter machines rented by Baylor St. Luke's.

Mr. Ababneh noted these inititiatives were new territory for him, as he went from running hospital operations to working on the conversion project. 

"I had no real experience in how to do that, but I did a lot of research and worked with our facilities team, explained to them what I was looking for," said Mr. Ababneh. "They were interested, [and] we hired someone to conduct pressure tests. We ended up opening windows and putting in filters and negative pressure machines that converted it to an 18-bed unit for COVID with negative pressure."

There were challenges with the conversion, such as bringing an older facility structure up to city code and having to boost the capacity of the hospital's air handler. But Mr. Ababneh and the hospital facilities team were able to complete the project within one week. Between eight and 15 COVID-patients have been in the unit at a given time since it opened in mid-March.

Through these efforts, Mr. Ababneh said he learned the value of teamwork. 

"Our entire team at Baylor St. Luke's, everyone from facilities management, environmental services and patient experience teams to those individuals on the front lines, are all working toward the same goal: to protect our patients and each other during this time," he said. "Our day-to-day duties drastically changed during this pandemic to prioritize everyone's safety and help our communities heal during this time."

His main takeaway for colleagues at other hospitals: "We need to pay attention to our changing environment, be flexible, step up to the challenge and work together as a team. And this is particularly true during a crisis."


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