Chuck Bonn – Children’s Minnesota
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, adults were contracting the virus at higher rates and with more serious symptoms than children.
For pediatric health systems like Children’s Minnesota, this gave time to prepare for the COVID-19 patients staff would eventually treat, which included the facilities team creating negative pressure rooms in one hospital wing.
“We were positioning ourselves for the overflow of the other non-pediatric hospitals close by,” says Chuck Bonn, the director of facilities. “We wanted to be far ahead of that particular curve and be well prepared for the inevitable.”
Children’s Minnesota is one of the largest pediatric health systems in the country and the only one in the state. The nonprofit system has two hospitals, nine primary care clinics, multiple specialty care clinics and seven rehabilitation sites.
At the organization’s Minneapolis hospital, Bonn and his team had 45 days to tear down the interior of a sixth-floor wing and reconstruct it with 18 negative pressure rooms. The $200,000 project required sealing off the wing and installing new duct work to change the airflow of each room. Bonn says he appreciates how quickly his team members worked and how, throughout the pandemic, they continued solve problems creatively.
“They viewed it as a challenge, and every time something came up, we all sat down together to brainstorm ideas and solutions,” he says. “They have great problem-solving skills and I’m glad they’ve been recognized for that, and given support, by upper management.”
Having overflow space available proved useful, Bonn says, because at one point during the pandemic, there were only two available ICU beds in the state.
After converting the wing, he and his team created a system that could turn any room into a temporary or semi-permanent negative pressure room. To do this, they modified existing portable devices that target small particles in the air and used them to convert the rooms to negative pressure. At one point, the hospital had 10 rooms using this system.
According to Bonn, negative pressure rooms assure any pathogen a patient may have, such as COVID-19, doesn’t leave that individual’s hospital room. The system draws air from the corridor back into the patient’s room so infectious agents can’t get out.
The facilities team was also tasked with creating a room for disinfecting N95 masks, which required a quick turnaround. Bonn says his team was told on a Thursday that the room needed to be ready by that upcoming Monday. In collaboration with the organization’s infectious control team, Bonn calculated that it took 10 minutes for UV lights to effectively sanitize masks, but they set up a 15-minute system to be extra cautious.
When personal protective equipment was in short supply, he says this allowed medical staff and other hospital employees to safely reuse masks. Prior to the pandemic, Bonn and his team had been installing UV lights throughout the hospitals and were three-quarters of the way through deep cleaning air handlers and HVAC systems. He says he feels fortunate the project was nearly done because it became a necessity during the pandemic.
“It looked like we had predicted the future because we already had that underway, but it was just something we knew was the right thing to do,” he says.
The team has also used its existing work ticket system to track pandemic-related regulations. These have included requirements for improved air filters, UV lights and negative pressure rooms, as well as temperature checks for facilities staff.
In March when COVID-19 cases were dropping, Bonn said he and his team were working on deferred maintenance projects, like repainting pipes.
“Every day is a little bit different, and you never know what’s going to happen,” he says. “Fortunately, the pandemic has proven that my team can manage the unknown and do the best they can with the information available.”
Bonn has been with Children’s Minnesota since 2008, having started as the facilities manager for the Minneapolis hospital. Four years ago, he was promoted to his current position to oversee every site. He manages maintenance, capital projects and real estate, as well as facilities spending and staffing. His team includes one facilities manager, 14 engineers, two project managers and one support staff. He uses contractors for electrical and plumbing work.
Prior to Children’s Minnesota, Bonn worked in sales and marketing. It was his part-time job at a nursing home that sparked a passion in him, though, and he decided to pursue a career in the healthcare industry. He says he’s loved the past 13 years at Children’s Minnesota because the leadership team lives its values and expects staff to do the same.
“One of our values is to own the outcome and another is to join together, both of which I think we’ve really had to do during the pandemic,” Bonn says. “We’ve come together to solve unprecedented problems and we’ve had to own our ideas and their outcomes.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. III 2022 Edition here.
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