The Secret World of the Sterile Processing Department – onboard the Africa Mercy
Surgeries are the major focus of work on the Africa Mercy. How do all those instruments get cleaned and sterilized? The Sterile Processing Department on Deck 3 is below the water level, on the same floor as the OR. It is rather a world unto itself-lying behind access restricted doors.
Here a team of 4 crew members and 2 day workers toil in extreme temperatures from 7:00 am- to as late as 3:00 am. All instruments for each surgery, ward, crew clinic and out-patient area are processed through this department.
The work is very labour intensive, with each instrument needing to be hand scrubbed before they are placed in a commercial washer/dryer. They are then inspected, hand packed into sets on trays, wrapped, sterilized, cooled and taken back to a clean storage area.
The work is rather hazardous – handling sharp instruments with exposure to both blood and body fluids. All staff must wear PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) which includes gowns, double gloves, full waterproof gowns, full face masks and shoe covers. This makes the job even more uncomfortable and awkward in the hot and humid temperatures.
But the most convincing reason is that this is the only place on the ship where literally your hands touch each and every life that is transformed. Awesome.
– Jane, Donor Relations, Mercy Ships Canada (and previous Sterile Processor and long term volunteer onboard the Africa Mercy!)