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Packaging Possibilities: Nurse Celebrates Medical Packaging

Images courtesy of Vanessa Warner, RN Sterile-Pkg-Day-Vanessa-ftd.jpg
Nurse Warner shares personal stories about sterile packaging from her experiences in the OR (left) and during peak COVID-19 outbreaks Spring 2020 in New York City (right, standing in an eerily vacant Times Square).
In caring for COVID-19 and other patients, Nurse Vanessa Warner relies on sterile packaging to keep critical medical products safe for use. And, for that, she’d like to thank you. But she also has an ask.

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, traveling nurse Vanessa Warner, Registered Nurse (RN), volunteered to be deployed to Times Square in New York City. The hottest hot spot for COVID-19 deaths. Why there? Because that’s where people needed help the most.

[In full discloser, I’m close to her story because Vanessa Warner is my niece.]

For the second annual Sterile Packaging Day (April 13, 2022), I wanted to ask someone I know in the healthcare field what sterile packaging means to her. Here is what Nurse Warner had to say …

 

PACKAGING POSSIBILITIES - Season 2: Episode 8

If you have a topic you’d like to propose for a future PACKAGING POSSIBILITIES episode, please email Lisa Pierce at [email protected].

 

TRANSCRIPTION IS AUTO GENERATED

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Hello, this is Lisa Pierce, Executive Editor of Packaging Digest, with another episode of Packaging Possibilities, a podcast that reveals what’s new and what’s next for packaging executives and engineers, designers and developers. In this episode, I’ll be talking with Vanessa Warner, RN. Vanessa has been a nurse since 2016, working in Atlanta, Georgia, initially and most recently as a traveling nurse.

Vanessa is also my niece and I think the world of her. She has such courage, compassion, and inner strength. I’m talking with her today because it’s the second annual Sterile Packaging Day, which is a celebration of sterile packaging and the people who work in this field.

Hello, beautiful. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.

Vanessa Warner (guest)
Hello. Hello. It is absolutely my pleasure to be here with you. The beautiful young, smart editor that is my aunt.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Oh, it’s such a love fest here.

Vanessa, so you’ve been a nurse since 2016, and I guess I should have done the math in advance, but that’s a four and two is six years now, coming up on six years now. Tell us a little bit about your experience from specifically working in an operating room and what it’s like in an OR, especially your interaction that you have with sterile packaging.

Vanessa Warner (guest)
Yep. So I’ve been a nurse since 2016, and, in 2019, I was working at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, and had an opportunity to join an amazing group up in the, our residency program where I was able to learn in all of the different specialties. So I got to do plastics; I got to do ortho; I got to do neuro; cardiovascular; general surgery. So basically, any type of surgery that they were doing, I got to see and be hands-on and also have the opportunity to learn how to scrub. Both things got me very familiar with all things sterile products.

And on both sides of the spectrum or on both sides at the blue cloth, it’s really important how everything is packaged, from finding the items that you need before a case to make sure that you’re as prepared as possible and then being actually — at the table and scrubbing with the surgeons and stuff — being able to have identified the items and the products that you’re using. Uhm, you know when you’re getting them, it is very important, especially in, you know kind of those minute-to-minute, second-to-second scenarios when things are important. So yeah. The packaging of those products, the placement, and how they are identified and labeled — it makes a big difference in the real world and actual patient outcomes.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
OK. And if I understand you correctly, you were mostly on the receiving end of the sterile products that were then presented to you. Or did you do a lot of the package opening yourself?

Vanessa Warner (guest)
I mostly was the circulating nurse that was opening the packages, but it was really … the program was really great that I was in where they would let us be on the receiving end of it. So most of the time I was the one opening the package, trying to find the packages. So I got to see both sides of it. But certainly the one opening it, it makes a difference when you know how to open it and when it opens nicely.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Yes, it does. And the folks who are in the industry try really hard to make it as easy as possible for you to do that, but obviously still safeguarding the sterility of the contents inside. So very interesting. I guess I just assumed that you were on the receiving end instead of the circulating end. And so that’s wonderful. OK, so you have that experience. But tell us please about when you were in New York City two years ago during the height of COVID-19 in 2020. What was that like and what were you doing there?

Vanessa Warner (guest)
Ah, it was the best, most-terrifying experience of my life. I was doing my best to keep my head above water to save as many people as we possibly could. It was the peak of the pandemic. It was at the very beginning when very little was known. It was scary, but it was probably one of the best experiences of my life and also the biggest learning experience of my life.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
OK. I know how tough that was for you. I’m so proud of what you did there and also, for the listeners here, Vanessa was interviewed by Doctor Oz for her efforts in just trying to keep up the morale for the healthcare workers that were there. There were a lot of people who donated many of the items that were needed, snack food. Do you want to just talk just really quickly about what that was all about, how you were able to do all that, and what you received?

Vanessa Warner (guest)
Sure, it’s probably part of one of the best parts of my experiences out there. In a really dark time, we did need just little boosts, whether it was from a snack in your pocket, or whether it was from just receiving really great messages. It started just kind of as a desperate Facebook post to just my friends and family to say, you know, hey, send me positive vibes or if you have extra masks or reading glasses for patients, just all of the items that nurses kind of needed quickly — we didn’t have time to go to stores or to, you know, get stuff sent to us. And then the patient …

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Frankly at that time, too, Vanessa, a lot of the items were not available in stores.

Vanessa Warner (guest)
Well, yeah.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
So you did rely on products coming to you, to being shipped to you from all over.

Vanessa Warner (guest)
Yeah, and it turned into, you know, just … I didn’t really know what it was going to turn into, but a local radio station that I used to play there … like trivia every morning … I would call in on my way to work, actually to the OR, and play their trivia thing. They got ahold of me, and they said, what can we do? What can we send? How can we help? And that just kind of got the ball rolling, that eventually I started getting donations and letters and banners and just so much positive energy and amazing love from all over the country. Even other parts of the world too.

So it was in a really difficult, dark time, to be able to help my other nurses and to be able to help the families of the patients, to help the patients. That was probably like the brightest spot that I had and it was really just kind of on a fluke. I never intended it to, to get bigger. And as it gained momentum, the more and more help that we got. And it was … it was really nice. It was really inspiring to see that there’s good in a really bad situation. That was, it was really heartwarming.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Yes, it was. Yes, it was. And you did an awesome job on the interview with Doctor Oz too. I was so proud of you.

Vanessa Warner (guest)
Thanks.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
So in your job — and you are still a nurse, a traveling nurse back in Atlanta at this point, but still considered a traveling nurse.

Vanessa Warner (guest)
I have come full circle.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Yes, you have. So you’re using products that are packaged in sterile packaging all the time, right? Can you give us just an example of some of the products that you use on a regular basis?

Vanessa Warner (guest)
Specific to sterile products, I mean, every day I put in a Foley catheter, which we know we don’t want to lead to any other infections. And so that’s a huge product that we use very regularly to just make sure that we don’t have bigger issues for the patients as far as skin breakdown from urine or anything like that. But the process of making sure it’s sterile is a really important thing and, kind of I think, sometimes gets overlooked. A lot of the times is that you know, we don’t want to be trying to help somebody and end up hurting them. And doing it sterilely and making sure that you follow those procedures and stuff like that. That’s an everyday thing that we do.

Especially during COVID, and now that I’m on a cardiovascular floor, central lines are a big deal. So central line kits, making sure you’ve got guide wires and stuff like that that just don’t go flailing around. And making sure that the packaging, before we get to that opening part, has kind of set you up for success.

Uhm, you don’t want to fail when you’re doing an invasive procedure. You don’t want to risk, you know, having any complications with your sterile field when you’re working. So the packaging and how we set ourselves up for success really do have a big impact on the direct patient care and what the outcomes could be. So those are the two that come to mind.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
OK, excellent. And I would imagine that visual indication of a … I don’t even know … I would say “pristine” package … but you know, just to make sure that the package is still sterile, that obviously is something that you do. When you’re doing the opening, did you have formal training for that? I’m assuming it was on-the-job, but a formal training system?

Vanessa Warner (guest)
So as I started as an RN, sterility is definitely taught to you. But in the OR is where it became a concrete thing, I mean, especially for … we get the different cases with whatever instruments are going to be used in there. They’ve been autoclaved and everything like that. I mean, we are thoroughly checking just the blue materials that they wrap those in. I mean, we look at the tape ’cause the tape has an indicator on it for if it’s actually met the heat requirements. You check for holes in everything. You are just constantly vigilant about making sure that everything that you’re about to use is completely sterile. And if there’s ever anything in question, it’s just automatically dirty. So I think that’s probably where my hyper vigilance for sterility really got deeply enforced … was when I was in the OR because it’s … you just can’t take even the smallest risk. You are already doing something invasive and something that could potentially be life threatening. And to do all of that and then to have an infection? You take it very seriously. Yeah, we’re constantly vigilant about checking things.

And now, you know, kind of at the bedside, I’m still hyper vigilant about it. I actually had an experience this last week at my brand new contract where somebody asked me to help him with the Foley and they broke sterile field and I was like, “We gotta start over.”

And I can see sometimes where people think that it’s not important. But if that was your mom, if that was your sister, if it’s someone you care about, you do the right thing every time. And packaging makes a difference.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
And your experience and the order of the experience that you had where you had that OR time … you know in the OR upfront as you say, has helped that issue of maintaining sterility top of mind for you. So kudos to you for that.

Before we hear more stories from Vanessa, let’s take just a short break for a special message.

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Lisa Pierce here. Executive Editor of Packaging Digest. Have you heard?? SouthPack is back! After a break of seven years, the 2022 event will take place this year June 14-16 at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, NC. Owned and organized by Informa Markets Engineering, the parent company of Packaging Digest, SouthPack will be one of six co-located shows at the all-new IM Engineering South advanced design and manufacturing expo. Sign up today at imengineeringsouth.com. That’s I M ENGINEERING SOUTH dot com.

Now, let’s get back to our Packaging Possibilities podcast.

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Lisa McTigue Pierce
OK. Vanessa, can you think of a time when sterile packaging helped you save a life and how?

Vanessa Warner (guest)
We did a lot of central lines in New York especially.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
During COVID you mean?

Vanessa Warner (guest)
During all of COVID, but New York especially, was kind of out of the OR realm where I saw a lot of very emergent procedures happening, and especially those central lines when we just, we couldn’t get the peripherals and stuff into people and it was a very quick expedited process of, you know, either putting in central lines or getting people intubated and stuff.

When everything is in chaos, and you have to focus on, “I need these four, five, six supplies,” whatever it is that you need to be able to successfully put in a central line, making sure that the packaging is bold, is direct, I can find it quickly. Those few seconds, they can matter. If I’m missing something that, you know, if it was supposed to come as a set and it wasn’t clearly identified on the package that everything was included in it, that can make or break an outcome for a patient. So clearly identifying if you have package sets for, in this particular case, for the central lines — making sure that everything is in it and that it’s identified before I open it. But everything’s in it.

And then just, if you want to use color coding, if you want to use … I especially really like it when there’s packaging where it’s on like the border of the products because the way that we use our supply rooms is they’re often stacked. You don’t see the front label of thing. So if I could identify, OK, this package is the green and white one. If this is the pink and white one. Those things, those few seconds … When you’re running out of the room and then running back in, and I can identify something quickly, those are really good indicators for me. So from the … on the front lines kind of perspective, if … in the OR, too … is if you’re in the case and you thought you brought everything but in the middle of it that the surgeons calling out for whatever the item is, give me something that’s bold and identifying, but also something that’s not going to conflict with 400 other items that are exactly the same. So you know checkering, just like … patterns and stuff like that on packages and border identifiers, as they sit stacked in cases and stuff are really helpful.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
OK, great. So speed and safety are two main advantages that packaging, when it’s well designed, can really help when it truly is a life-and-death situation.

Vanessa, as a nurse who counts on sterile products in these life-and-death situations, what do you have to say to the people who work in the sterile packaging industry? These are the people who make the packages, the people who make the products that go in them, and then the people who perform the sterilization. What message do you have for them today?

Sterile-Pkg-Day-Vanessa-quote-web.jpg

Vanessa Warner (guest)
Thank you. You probably don’t get enough credit. As multi layered as the healthcare system is, you are a part of it and thank you so much for what you do for us and for our patients. And in the same token, the thoughtfulness that you put into your products, the care that you put into making sure that they’re sterile, being thoughtful and sensical about the ergonomics of how you package your products — it really does make a difference.

And the fact that people are starting to look for input from the people who are using the products, who are opening the products, it means a lot to hear that you guys are looking for our input instead of just selling a product. That you’re actually looking to make it functional for the people that use it. And for all of your patients that we use your products on, I’ll tell you thank you from them too, because it makes a difference — not having that infection in addition to all of their other disease processes. It saves lives. You’re not insignificant. You matter and we appreciate everything you do behind the scenes.

Lisa McTigue Pierce
Wonderful. Vanessa, thank you so much. Not only for talking with us today and sharing your experiences and your feelings about sterile packaging, but for everything that you do — because your efforts are what saves lives. So thank you for that.

Appreciate you coming on and talking with me.

Vanessa Warner (guest)
My pleasure.

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