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Legislature Appears Set to Require Certification for Scrub Techs

A group of surgical technologists, or scrub techs, pushed House Bill 2876 to require standards for their profession and close a potential gap in patient safety. They’ve been after education and certification requirements for at least 15 years, and now a law is likely to take effect next year.
May 22, 2015

It’s been a long time coming, but legislation looks promising that will require Oregon hospitals and clinics to use only certified “scrub techs” or surgical technologists.

House Bill 2876 requires the techs to have completed a nationally accredited education course, show training in the armed forces, or show they have at least two years’ experience by July 2016. They must also achieve national certification. As with other professions, scrub techs will need eight hours of continuing education a year to remain in good standing.

Scrub techs are essential players in the operating theater, ensuring that a surgeon has all the tools at the ready. Tara Kruse, a surgical technologist at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield, said the work has become more complicated, with the number of tools a surgeon may need rising from about 30 in 1995 to as many as 1,000 today.

The techs are charged with passing instruments, equipment or supplies; sponging or suctioning an operative site; preparing and cutting suture material; transferring fluids or drugs; handling specimens; holding retractors and other equipment; applying electrocautery to clamps on bleeders; connecting drains to suction apparatus; applying dressings to closed wounds; and assisting in counting supplies and instruments, including sponges and needles.

But even as doctors, nurses and certified nursing assistants must meet a certain level of efficacy, surg techs have flown under the radar in Oregon, with no standards in place to ensure they’re qualified to do the work.

Kruse said surgical technologists had been working on such legislation since at least 2000, but each time failed to gain traction. They finally got the green light to improve patient safety while demanding a level of professionalism, after working with Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, and particularly Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, who understands their role better than anyone in the Legislature.

“He’s an orthopedist from Bend, and I think it shows his commitment for patient safety,” Kruse said.

“They are really the right hand of the surgeon doing a procedure,” Buehler told his colleagues when House Bill 2876 cleared the House in late April. A vote in the Senate Health Committee is scheduled for Monday.

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems came on board with House Bill 2876 after it won an amendment that clearly delineates exceptions for rural health hospitals. Such facilities -- located more than 10 miles from a city of 40,000 people -- won’t be left off the hook completely, because uncertified surgical technologists will have to go through training while they work, and eventually must be certified.

Don Dreese, an Army-trained scrub tech at Legacy Meridian Hospital in Tualatin, said there are only two accredited civilian programs currently in Oregon, one at Mt Hood Community College in Gresham and the other at the private Concord Career College in Portland. Part of the delay for rural areas was to allow for the development of educational programs outside the Portland metro area.

The hospital association initially opposed the bill, with lobbyist Patty O’Sullivan noting rural hospitals may be hard-pressed to find scrub techs with previous training and some surgeons preferred to “grow their own.” But she changed her mind on the last point after speaking with Buehler, who informed her that some surgeons train their own people only because the techs some hospitals provide are not well-trained.