Case Studies

Joseph Vota – University of Miami Health System

Safety and infection control tops UHealth facilities leader’s priority list

It’s easy to see the new surgery centers under construction in Doral in Miami and SoLé Mia in Aventura, Florida, taking shape for the University of Miami Health System, or UHealth. They’re six- and seven-story facilities, respectively, and when completed in September 2024 and early 2025, they’ll each provide a wide variety of services on expansive campuses.

Joseph Vota | Director of Safety | University of Miami Health System

Joseph Vota | Director of Safety | University of Miami Health System

It’s what can’t be seen that concerns Joseph Vota the most as UHealth’s director of safety. Ensuring patients and staff safety during construction activities is one of his most pressing responsibilities. He is ensuring that facilities currently in use or under construction are incorporating building systems correctly to prevent contaminants from entering occupied environments.

Whether providing the safety guidelines for roof replacements, installing a new heating, ventilation and cooling system, or renovating a wing of a hospital, Vota develops plans with architects and engineers, clinical and administrative teams, and infection control practitioners to protect the patient-occupied environment during the construction activities.

While Vota has worked in facilities management in health care for 25 years, he also applies his experience and education in physics to his role.

“My approach to my work is scientifically based,” he says. “I analyze and develop programs based on the risks I see in the environment and in processes and procedures.”

Award-winning care

Anchored by the research at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, UHealth also includes Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, rated best by U.S. News and World Report.  Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center recently marked 50 years of cancer care, and it’s the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in South Florida. In addition, Sylvester has established 19 hospital-based clinics for cancer patients throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Joseph Vota | Director of Safety | University of Miami Health System

Transitional Cancer Research Building (TCRB)

The core values of teaching and research will be paramount in the new Transitional Cancer Research Building on the medical campus in Miami. This 12-story 244,000 square foot building is under construction and will be devoted to cancer research, Vota says.

UHealth offers care and expertise in more than 100 medical specialties   The flagship 560-bed academic research hospital, UHealth Tower, is centrally located in the medical district near downtown Miami. Its network comprises more than 1,800 providers and scientists and includes facilities and clinics, some at UHealth-Walgreens pharmacies, across four counties in South Florida.

As UHealth maintains and expands its facilities, Vota is responsible for ensuring projects are completed safely with minimal disruption to patient care.

Meeting the standards

As with all UHealth’s facilities and projects, there’s complex regulatory oversight governing areas, including air pressure and temperatures in operating rooms, life and fire safety systems, and more.

UHealth adheres to standards and regulations set by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The nonprofit Joint Commission also accredits the system, and in Florida, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration exercises oversight for healthcare buildings from plan reviews to final inspection.

Vota says there is a significant challenge to meet regulatory requirements in leased properties as the landlord, in most cases, is responsible for life safety and other National Fire Protection Association regulations. All compliance requirements need to be documented, accurately and on time. And he uses pre-construction and infection control matrices and risk assessments for maintenance and construction projects.

It’s not a new approach, either. While Vota was at Broward Health, which also serves South Florida, he oversaw replacing rooftop air conditioning units that were directly above its level three neonatal intensive care unit.

Joseph Vota | Director of Safety | University of Miami Health System

Interior Inspection Team

He was especially concerned about infection control and how the noise and vibrations would affect these littlest patients. So, before the project started, he and his team set up a mock work session above and placed sensors in the NICU unit to measure sound and vibration levels. Fortunately, they found those levels didn’t appreciably increase—in fact, noise levels increased more during daily doctors’ rounds.

“It helped us rest easy knowing the neonates were safe,” he says.

Knowledge and experience

A native New Yorker, Vota likes to say he’s partly gotten his jobs through his “softball network,” although he hits the diamond less often than he used to.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Manhattan College and a master’s in communications from New York University.

He’s also changed careers several times, working as a teacher, entrepreneur, design and print manager, compact disc manufacturing manager, quality control manager, and, finally, as a health care facility operations manager.

Joseph Vota | Director of Safety | University of Miami Health System

“I’ve always prided myself on being able to analyze the human factors in processes,” he says. “I’ve been able to apply the principles of physics to help solve problems almost daily.”

Vota has been working in the healthcare industry since 1998 when he was hired by a chemist who became his mentor. Both had the same scientific approach to managing challenges.

He joined Broward Health Medical Center in August 1998 as facilities and project manager. In 2007, he was named regional manager of safety, security, emergency preparedness and projects at Broward Health North Hospital. He joined UHealth in August 2014.

Vota enjoys collaborating and sharing his ideas and experiences with his healthcare colleagues while continuing to apply his physics and safety expertise.

“My role is to minimize or eliminate risks, preferably through elimination or engineering solutions to avoid injuries,” he declares. “I’m a Jack of many trades and master of some. I’m a generalist and recognize what I don’t know, but I do know where to seek the answers.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. VIII 2023 Edition here.

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