Addressing Safety Concerns in the Sterile Processing Department at UAB: A Call for Action


In a recent viral TikTok video, Alessandra Nicholson, a former employee of Steris, a third-party contractor providing sterilization services to UAB, expressed her concerns about safety issues at UAB Hospital. Nicholson highlighted the potential dangers that patients and employees face due to inadequate conditions within the hospital's sterile processing department. Her claims shed light on the critical but often unseen role of sterile processing in patient care.

According to Nicholson, UAB Hospital posed greater risks compared to other hospitals where she had previously worked. She emphasized that no matter how skilled the surgeons or advanced the equipment, dirty instruments can compromise the entire surgical procedure. However, Tyler Greer, a UAB spokesperson, denied Nicholson's allegations, stating that UAB Hospital consistently ranks high among peer academic medical centers in terms of safety.

Nevertheless, Nicholson provided evidence, including photos showing crowded surgical trays and stains on the floor and equipment, suggesting potential hazards for patients. She voiced her concerns after being terminated from Steris, alleging that her dismissal was in retaliation for making her concerns public. Having worked in six hospitals throughout her career, Nicholson believed that urgent action was necessary to address the conditions at UAB.

In response, Greer mentioned that UAB recently invested $3.4 million in new washing and sterilization equipment, adhering to national standards for instrument cleaning. However, Nicholson forwarded emails related to an employee who suffered an injury from a needle that had been mixed with other instruments. This incident highlights the need for proper safety protocols and monitoring for blood-borne diseases. Nicholson expressed disappointment when Steris offered to create a video for the operating room employees instead of addressing the safety issues directly with UAB.

Nicholson's frustrations ultimately led her to resign from her position, although her supervisors placed her on paid leave instead. Former employees of UAB's sterile processing department and nurses have reached out in support of Nicholson's claims. Additionally, Nicholson, who also runs a consulting company, advocates for more rigorous training for employees and is involved in a nationwide nonprofit organization called the Sterile Processing Department Education Fund.

Greer assured that UAB is committed to reducing workplace injuries, including needle sticks, by implementing processes such as using magnets to remove needles and blades from surgical trays. Employees who may be exposed to sharp objects receive comprehensive safety training. UAB also follows protocols to monitor and appropriately respond to reported injuries caused by needles or sharp objects.

The concerns raised by Alessandra Nicholson shed light on the importance of addressing safety issues in the sterile processing department at UAB Hospital. It is imperative that these concerns are taken seriously and that proactive measures are implemented to ensure the well-being of both patients and employees. By prioritizing safety and adhering to stringent protocols, UAB can maintain its commitment to providing high-quality medical care in a safe environment.