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Innovating in Facilities Management

As someone who is passionate about applying innovative solutions to my flooring businesses, I’m always intrigued to hear other innovators’ stories. I want to introduce you to the subject of one of those stories: Justin Pollard.

At just 36 years old, Justin is changing the face of facilities management for one of the most well-respected health systems in the nation: Sutter Health.

Culture Transformation at Sutter Health

Sutter has 25 hospitals across Northern California, as well as five medical foundations and a psychiatric facility on Oahu. The system grew out of an acquisition business model in the 1990s and 2000s: pick up aging community hospitals and make them a part of the system, while allowing each to continue as independent affiliates. Over time, Sutter began a restructure to centralize departments like HR, accounting and information services – and eventually, facilities management. 

Justin started his career with Sutter Health in 2007 as an engineer, working his way up the ranks until 2016, when he was hired by Sutter Corporate to help form a centralized facilities management department. In 2017, Justin was promoted to director of acute facilities for the Sutter system, and today, all 26 hospitals, and facilities teams totaling around 600 employees are supported by Justin and his team.

Assess Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the first things he did was to hit the road and visit each hospital. “I wanted to see the gaps and the biggest challenges they faced, as well as the best practices that each facility was most proud of,” he says. “I thought I was a really good chief engineer, but there were things that these hospitals were doing that I had never even thought of. I also found that every facility manager and chief engineer struggled with many of the same challenges I had as a facility manager: regulations were changing faster than they could keep up with, we were falling behind in education and training, and our work order system and ability to track work was not effective.”

In response to these challenges and gaps, Justin began making small adjustments, the first of which was reducing the 17 different work order systems in use to one uniform system, as well as hiring a program administrator to own the system. The result: a nearly $1 million annual savings, higher quality and better support.

To address the education and training challenges, he is pushing forward a Healthcare Facilities Management Apprenticeship program, one of the first of its kind in the nation. “Training was a big gap and the technology is constantly evolving,” he says. “The whole industry is going digital, creating a huge learning curve; the training currently available isn’t keeping up with it.”

Justin recognizes the critical importance of preparing the next generation of healthcare facilities managers. “Just like any other technical industry, we have a massive amount of people retiring in the near future. Succession planning is critical. Our training program is going to be a big carrot to bring in the new generation of facilities engineers. We have been leveraging our corporate size and strength, bringing the trainer to us and offering it centrally to all our hospitals. We are able to bring in resources to our rural hospitals that haven’t had them in the past.”

Use Data to Make the Business Case for Change 

One of the gaps he identified was difficulty getting funding. “Every facility manager I talked to lost out on facility needs; when it comes to funding, a leaking roof will almost always lose out to expanding patient services, attracting doctors, increasing patients,” he says.

His solution: set aside a designated facilities infrastructure reinvestment fund. By working with leadership to understand the impact of deferred maintenance and aging facilities Sutter is trying to remove that competition for capital dollars.

Staffing is another funding challenge facilities teams face, and to work toward overcoming the hurdle, Justin’s team is working to change the mindset in how facility managers request staff. “Facility managers will say their staff is overworked and we need more people, but it’s an argument that often isn’t backed by measurable data. Through CMMS and other initiatives we are working to help make the business case. That’s usually not an FM’s specialty, and that is a gap we are trying to fill,” he says.  “So, we looked at our assets – do we have 4 assets or 17 assets per 1,000 square feet?  How many hours are we spending on PM’s? Repairs? We realized we were missing some data, so we hired a third party to come in and get an inventory and condition assessment of all of our equipment,” he says, “Knowing that information, and the work coming in every day and the regulatory demands that must be met, we can now make data-driven decisions instead of emotionally based decisions. We are now able to know where the biggest need is and do risk-based capital reinvestment, not just grease the squeaky wheel.”

To reduce energy consumption – one of the hospital’s biggest operational expenses – Justin and his team are looking to optimize energy savings and energy management. “We are rolling out on-site solar builds and reviewing other on-site generation options as well as starting RCx efforts at as many hospitals as we can to reduce consumption, increase building performance and increase our ability to care for our buildings,” he says.

APEX and Sutter share a common vision when it comes to innovation:  “Our goal at the end of the day,” says Justin, “is to provide our facilities teams with the tools, education and security to care for our hospitals so our clinical teams can deliver the highest quality patient care.”

At APEX, we are working to do the same thing with our industry-leading CF360 client enterprise system, and our technician app – tools that help our flooring teams support our clients in the best, most efficient ways possible.

If you are interested in connecting with innovators like Justin, and sharing facilities management success stories across all sectors, I invite you to join us in the Facility Innovation LinkedIn group. Let’s work together to move the innovation ball forward!