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For Richie Stever, director of operations and maintenance at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) and Midtown campuses in Baltimore, working in facility management is second nature. Not only is Stever a Certified Healthcare Facility Manager (CHFM), but he is pursuing a master’s degree in healthcare administration at the University of Maryland University College.
Since joining UMMC in 2010, Stever has overseen building management activities for the facility’s 3.5 million square feet while also leading a team of 62 employees. Prior to joining UMMC, Stever worked as an HVAC technician and entered the healthcare industry as a project manager for a construction company specializing in healthcare.
While building operations management is at the core of Stever’s strengths, the COVID-19 pandemic demanded that Stever pivot in his role and embrace new and unforeseen challenges facing UMMC. It also required Stever to don some unusual hats during a time when “all hands on deck” was paramount.
In February 2020, when COVID-19 took hold of the healthcare industry, Stever was named operations chief for the M&T Bank Stadium mass vaccination site and home of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. The site is the result of a partnership between the University of Maryland Medical System, the Maryland Department of Health, the Maryland Air National Guard, and the Maryland Stadium Authority. When the global pandemic hit, Stever’s role at UMMC was put on hold, and his role transitioned to be “all COVID work.”
Now that Stever is off-site on a full-time basis at the mass vaccination center, he finds it challenging to also continue to monitor and oversee the building management of the hospital located a mile away from M&T Bank Stadium.
“Luckily, I have a great team with supportive managers who I can depend on,” Stever says. “That allows me to focus on the mass vaccination site.”
New site, new challenges
New challenges emerge daily and even hourly at the mass vaccination site. The biggest challenge for Stever is time management.
“We still have a building to run effectively with patients in it,” Stever says. “So it really comes down to me personally managing time to keep my finger on the pulse of the hospital, as well as all this extra COVID work.”
As vice president of operations with UMCC, Gonzalo Solis works closely with Stever. He is also the incident co-commander for the medical center’s COVID-19 response.
“In addition to Richie’s leadership and healthcare operational expertise, he is known for his drive and ability to work with teams across various disciplines,” Solis says. “His compassion toward patients, families and the community is reflected in his team, who proudly serve and see themselves as caregivers. Moreover, Richie is never shy about facing new challenges, which is evident in all our COVID-19 efforts.”
(Being able to manage with flexibility and strong problem-solving skills are critical for Stever’s job.)
When attention turned to setting up the mass vaccination site, it involved a tremendous amount of planning. Specifically, UMMC developed a system for the mass vaccination site based on several smaller vaccination sites the system had built earlier in the pandemic.
“We started with a seven-vaccinator site in our auditorium at the hospital and quickly outgrew that,” Stever says.
This original auditorium-based site was mainly used for addressing the vaccinations of the medical system staff. Following the outgrowth of that site, the medical system partnered with the University of Maryland campus across the street and mobilized one of the school’s ballrooms to be used as a vaccination site. A third vaccination site was established at the school’s Midtown campus.
“We essentially took all the knowledge that we acquired from establishing these sites and put together a plan to establish a mass vaccination site and presented it to the state of Maryland,” Stever says.
The state’s response was to propose that the University of Maryland Medical System manage the mass vaccination site.
“After we developed our playbook, the four of us came together and built the site in 18 days,” Stever says. “At the beginning, we were vaccinating over 600 people per day, and now we are up to over 4,300 patients a day.”
As the operations chief of the mass vaccination site, Stever is responsible for its day-to-day operations.
“It has nothing to do with staffing,” he says. “Rather, it has everything to do with the patient flow, the patient experience and the patient satisfaction.”
Each day, about two hours before the mass vaccination site opens, Stever ensures all the queue lines are in place, the heating mechanism for the outdoor tent is working, and the golf carts used to transfer patients who need assistance from the parking lot into the building are ready.
“I also make sure we are implementing strategies based on what we learned from the day before,” Stever says. “What we learn and what we experience is different every day.”
For example, the staff at the mass vaccination site recently was preparing for inclement weather as patients at the site were lining up outside, not undercover. Together, the National Guard and the Maryland Stadium Authority developed an undercover queue line to address the incoming cold and rain.
“Another day, we had a large number of mobility patients come through, and the queue line wasn’t big enough,” Stever says. “In addition, we had some staffing ‘no show’ shortages, so we had to creatively adjust the queue lines accordingly to meet the needs of these patients.”
Being able to manage with flexibility and strong problem-solving skills are critical for Stever’s role. What Solis finds fascinating about those who are healthcare leaders in building operations and maintenance is that healthcare facilities require care and attention, from preventive maintenance to responding to emergencies.
“I am proud to say that Richie and his team make sure our facilities provide the best in support and care to our patients,” Solis says. “Richie leads by engaging his team and celebrating their value to the rest of the healthcare workers. He does this by actively listening to his team, providing support and removing barriers in order for them to carry on and be proud of their work.”
Mass Vax: How One FM Is Tackling COVID-19 Head On