Case Studies

Tony Palumbo – Rush Oak Park Hospital

An electrician-turned-director advocates for facilities and patients

In the early 2000s, Tony Palumbo was a general contractor, someone who handles everything from materials and equipment to labor for construction-related projects.

Rush Oak Park Hospital hired him every so often on a contract basis. Having worked on everything from retail to residential homes and commercial properties, he found he really enjoyed working on this particular Illinois hospital campus.

“I loved the people I was working with and the overall atmosphere of a close-knit, small community hospital,” he tells Blueprint with a smile. “I was instantly drawn to the respect and camaraderie colleagues, from leadership to medical professionals and staff, had for each other—and that they were all on the same page about the top priority: patient care.”

So, he didn’t hesitate to apply when an electrician position opened with the clinical partner of Rush University Medical Center. Rush Oak Park Hospital hired Palumbo on a full-time basis in 2007.

A decade later, opportunity knocked on his door again when the ROPH facilities director moved onto another position and the assistant director stepped into that role. Palumbo felt he’d be a perfect fit with his knowledge and expertise of ROPH and its various offerings, from its skilled care unit and emergency department to its centers for breast cancer, primary stroke, rehabilitation, radiation therapy and wound care as well as College of American Pathology-accredited labs.

ROPH agreed and the assistant directorship was his—but only for a year. In April 2018, he was promoted to his current role as director of facilities. He now facilitates operational budgets, implements capital planning and leads a team of 21, including general maintenance, stationary engineers, electricians, plumbers, painters and mechanics.

“I started at the same place as most of my staff, so I know how to advocate for them and their needs, so we can make everything run smoothly for doctors, nurses and everyone else at ROPH—ultimately leading to the best patient care possible,” Palumbo says.

Skill not speed

Palumbo also supports his team through providing educational materials and training. He believes even tidbits of information can prove useful and hour-long training isn’t always necessary or even the most productive way to impart knowledge.

That’s why he passes out pamphlets on an almost monthly basis, a lot of them produced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. These can cover everything from asbestos safety and how to properly lift and use heavy equipment to ladder safety and working in confined spaces. He then creates short tests to check his team’s retainment of the information.

He also partners with Grainger, a Chicago-based industrial supply company, to bring in various companies to provide hands-on, in-person training on topics ranging from plumbing to electricity. While he has someone come in at least once a year, he wants to make this a more consistent, scheduled training program—and hopes to do so starting in 2024.

Other times, he leads training, from lock out and fire protection to ensuring the proper and constant use of harnesses and other safety equipment. While such training has existed since before he was a contractor with ROPH, he’s helped evolve it over the years.

“I like to educate and to show people safer, better and more efficient ways of working,” Palumbo says. “Taking your time and not rushing, that’s the key, and that’s the mindset I instill in my team.”

A patient-first approach

Palumbo and the rest of the facilities team don’t just handle maintenance; they also play a critical role in expansions and the construction of new buildings, like the 26,000-square-foot emergency department that opened in October 2019.

The new ER was a response to increased volume as well as wanting to provide the best patient care and safety. He and his team helped move the ER out of the main hospital into a brand-new building on campus. More than doubling the prior location of 10,000 square feet, the current 26 rooms have new amenities like nurse call remotes and in-room monitors.

“Size alone makes a huge difference,” Palumbo says.

He worked closely with architects and the emergency department team. As the assistant director at the time, he took this as a critical learning opportunity for future projects.

That knowledge has been handy since then, particularly at the start of 2023, when he led the addition of an electrophysiology lab to the hospital. Partnering with the companies Jacobs and BEAR Construction, he started the project in January and had the doors open in June.

The project is part of his overall aim to constantly make ROPH better and at the forefront of what patients need and want.

“Remaining with the same department for over 16 years has given me a unique, clear insight into the needs of my staff and the hospital, so we can all ultimately provide patients with the best care and experience,” Palumbo says. “I made the right choice in 2007 to apply to ROPH, and I’ve enjoyed every day since, knowing the work my team and I do every day helps patients.”

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

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