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Straighten Your Supply Room
Reorganizing your supply storage, step by step.
David Bernard
Publish Date: October 10, 2007   |  Tags:   Supply Management

When Paul McGuire, RN, BSN, MBA, arrived at the Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury, Md., four years ago, he had a lot on his mind about how he wanted to get things done. But not all of his thoughts were directly related to the cardiovascular and neurosurgical procedures he'd be supervising as clinical OR manager for those departments.

"One of my first thoughts was, ?We've got to get our OR central core better organized,'" he recalls. The storage room, which contained about 2,000 square feet of floor space, was crammed with at least 70 baker's racks.

"Wire shelving all over the place, row upon row and lining every free space along the walls," says Mr. McGuire. "It was so disorganized the way everything was laid out." Whatever advantages the shelves had originally offered were lost, as the storage system grew too large for efficient use.

Rethinking your supply storage system can be an overwhelming, easy-to-put-off task, given the need for extensive planning, on-site renovations and staff education, not to mention a willing budget. As with any improvement, however, it can be seen as a step-by-step process, and manufacturers' latest offerings in high-density and mobile storage can provide solutions that are cost-effective as well as space-efficient (see "What's New in Supply Storage Systems" on page 66). Here are some of the first steps.

Overcoming status quo
As Mr. McGuire discovered, overhauling his facility's storage system required a bit of convincing once he'd proposed the idea.

"The standard answer was, ?This is the way we've always done it,'" he says. "I've been a professional nurse for more than 30 years, though, and in my experience, there's always a better way, a more organized way, to do anything." He recruited the facility's director and purchaser to his plan and worked from the top shelf down.

You might have to climb a financial obstacle as well. "Storage rooms don't make money, so it's not uncommon for there not to be an adequate amount of space," says Lynne Ingle, RN, MHA, CNOR, an equipment planner for Gene Burton & Associates.

Mr. McGuire says his facility was fortunate in that administrators found budget funds that had been earmarked for just such a project. Organization saves time, however, and saving time saves money. If you're able to present a storage improvement proposal in terms of real efficiency gains, it might make your plan more attractive.

"You need to look at things other than cost," says Mr. McGuire. "In the healthcare market, we're so cost-conscious, and there's nothing wrong with that, but you might have to spend a little more for something that works."

What's New in Supply Storage Systems

Today's storage systems can maximize space and improve efficiency by helping you to manage the things you're keeping on your shelves.

- Compiled by David Bernard

Qualcraft Shelf Exchange Carts
(888) 625-4633
Price: $400 to $800
FYI: Feature chrome-plated wire shelving and posts, easy rolling and locking casters, and shelves that readjust quickly and without tools. The standard duty cart offers an 800-lb. capacity and the heavy duty a 1,200-lb. capacity.

Armstrong Medical Industries
ClearView Security Drug Box
(800) 323-4220
Price: $250
FYI: The ClearView provides a convenient option for securing narcotics, small equipment, patients' valuables and RSI equipment, the company says. This storage solution makes inventory visible at a glance and lets you set up cases in advance.

Cardinal Health
Pyxis ProcedureStation with Pyxis JITrBUD system
(800) 367-9947
Price: Not disclosed
FYI: The secure inventory storage system provides rapid access to inventory, the company says, while the wireless open-access management system adapts technology to existing hospital storage systems.

InnerSpace Corp.
QuickWire High Density Storage
(800) 467-7224
Price: Standard four-shelf stationery unit starts at $130; floor track system and other options custom-priced based on size.
FYI: QuickWire increases inventory's accessibility, says the company. Easily movable wire shelving units on a low-profile floor track system reduce aisle space by allowing shelves to be compacted when not in use.

Time and motion
For the staff, saving time is an incentive for change in itself. The aesthetics of organization creates a more work-friendly environment, while helping to reduce the amount of time it takes to pull supplies for a case.

"An OR core that looks sloppy or messy or thrown together is a very big discouragement for the staff," says Mr. McGuire. "It also makes the job that much more difficult to get from point A to point B."

Since major changes to a facility's daily workflow will affect nearly everyone, gathering a team effort by involving as many OR managers, nurse administrators and educators as possible will ease the transition. It will also ensure that staff input will help to build a storage system that works for as many users as possible. Because above all, a new storage and retrieval system must be usable. Whether it's instrument sets and disposable items that are pulled every day or equipment that's needed in the OR right this minute, everything must be in a convenient place where everyone knows to find it.

"If you're fighting with central supply to find a piece of equipment, and it's on your shelves, that's a big problem," says Mr. McGuire.

A system that works
Mr. McGuire and his colleagues arranged for presentations by three storage system manufacturers. Since they wanted to see the systems in action, they made site visits - including one elsewhere in their own facility. "None of us realized that our pharmacy department had one of their products installed," he says, noting that its efficiency had been serving them already.

Assessing a storage system's functionality and how well it will fit into your facility depends on more than just how accessible it makes your supplies and how efficiently it uses the space it occupies.

You must also consider the ergonomics of supply storage, and how well a system works for staff to reduce reach and strain. "Facilities want shelves that are easily adjustable," says Ms. Ingle. "And shelves that can hold heavier things, like instrument trays, at waist level," so as not to risk staff injury through bending over to lift up or reaching up to pull down weighty supplies.

"You'll also want to consider how you protect the things you put on the shelf," she says. Wire shelving is less expensive than solid shelves, for instance, but the bottom shelf of a unit should be solid and a sufficient height above the floor to avoid contamination from mopping. Another detail you might consider is overlays for the upper wire shelves, in order to prevent wire edges from tearing holes in wrapped supplies.

What's New in Supply Storage Systems

Today's storage systems can maximize space and improve efficiency by helping you to manage the things you're keeping on your shelves.

- Compiled by David Bernard

InterMetro Industries Corporation (Metro)
(800) 433-2232
Price: $200 to $500
FYI: Available in many sizes, this corrosion-proof system has built-in antimicrobial protection with removable mats. The company says it can be set up in rows, mounted on walls or used as high-density active-aisle storage systems.

Lista International Corp.
HyperSpace Cabinet
(800) 722-3020
Price: $900 to $2,400
FYI: This mobile unit made of heavy gauge steel offers 4.5 square feet of surface area per drawer, each of which can hold up to 440 pounds and requires only 36 inches of aisle space for full extension, says the company.

Logiquip LLC
Par Wall
(800) 665-3760
Price: Priced by system components
FYI: An easy-access, high-visibility, open supply storage system, Par Wall's basket shelves and dividers conveniently hold all your par levels of supplies and fluids, the company says. Par Wall gives clean, open, instant access to supplies in a high-density system.

Medical Design Systems
MASS Storage Systems
(800) 593-1900
Price: $3,000 to $4,000
FYI: You can create specific carts unique to each procedure and easily portable to each site, eliminating the need to stock multiple supplies in each surgery suite, says the company. You can maximize interior space with modular components.

Meeting your needs
As mentioned earlier, you get what you pay for in terms of storage systems, so you might not want to settle for an out-of-the-catalog solution when many manufacturers will customize their products to your specific storerooms.

"We had the attitude of, ?We have this space, what can we do with it?'" says Mr. McGuire. "The response of the company we eventually chose was a big factor. It worked to accommodate our needs."

Given the unique needs of each facility's storage situation, the more individual a manufacturer's attention is, the more likely it is you'll end up with a better result.

Ms. Ingle points out that your facility's architect can send dimensions to the manufacturer or manufacturers of your choice, but adds that many companies are willing to send consultants to measure your site, develop recommendations and provide preliminary drawings, which makes retrofitting a system to your space entirely possible.

On a smaller scale, companies can also work with you to customize each shelf with drawers, bins, slanted racks and other organizing devices, or expand on them with spaces to incorporate bar coding for automated stock-keeping and electronic inventory control.

In Ms. Ingle's view, "the marriage between shelves and supply management to control costs" is a growing trend.

"What you want for supplies is the least amount of wasted space," she says. "You want to get as much in the limited space as you can."

Benefits of mobility
Mr. McGuire and the Peninsula Regional Medical Center eventually chose a high-density, mobile supply storage solution to bring efficiency back to their OR core.

Unlike rows of stationary shelves, which eat up space by requiring a specific width between them as aisles, mobile storage shelves sit on wheels and in-floor tracks, letting users push unused shelves together and eliminate the space of unused aisles. Without the multiple aisles, the shelving's smaller footprint enables more storage capacity or frees up space for other uses.

"It's very efficient. It works very well," says Mr. McGuire, who became familiar with mobile storage at a previous hospital he'd worked at. "Mobile storage gets it done right."

Mobile storage, whether manually-operated or motorized, has become an increasingly common choice among new facilities, says Ms. Ingle. "I don't see carts around the room too much anymore for places that are just setting up," she says. Mobile "is somewhat more expensive, but it can provide you with more room. And room is at a premium."

What's New in Supply Storage Systems

Today's storage systems can maximize space and improve efficiency by helping you to manage the things you're keeping on your shelves.

- Compiled by David Bernard

Midmark Corp.
Midmark Modular Casework System
Price: Based on custom options
FYI: Midmark uses design experience and physician research to create efficient supply storage, the company says. The Modular Casework System is fluid and adaptable to meet continually changing needs and technology.

Remstar International
Horizontal Carousel
(800) 639-5805
Price: based on location, project size and load capacity
FYI: A system of revolving shelves at the operator's command delivers the requested surgical supplies quickly and safely. The company says it improves the accuracy of supply picking and increases productivity over traditional pulls.

Spacesaver Corp.
Custom-built high density mobile storage systems
(800) 492-3434
Price: $5.50 to $6.50 per linear square inch
FYI: Powered, high-density mobile system turns wasted aisles into functional storage, saving space and maximizing organization, the company says.

Scan Modul Systems
Modular storage system
(800) 944-7459
Price: based on customized project's size
FYI: Every component is designed around the European standard of 40cm by 60cm, to ensure that modules are completely interchangeable among the company's range of carts, shelving, racks and cabinets, the company says.

Unicell, Inc.
C27D Modular Cell
(800) 718-2347
Price: $500 to $1,000
FYI: Unicell's flexible storage systems feature modular components that are easy to arrange and later rearrange, the company says. Unicell products can offer stationary, wall-mounted storage solutions, or mobile ones when mounted on casters or other transport mechanisms.

Waterloo Healthcare
Elite Lightweight Aluminum Unicart
(800) 833-4419
Price: $800 to $1,200
FYI: Waterloo's Unicart is now available in lightweight aluminum. Standard features on all carts include a stabilizing frame, a push handle, four 5-inch casters, a removable top and full-drawer extension with ball bearing slides, the company says. All carts are built to order.