Ensuring the optimum environment of care in the nation’s largest pediatric hospital is no small undertaking. While Elex Sanchez doesn’t lay scalpel to skin, his responsibilities at Houston’s Texas Children’s Hospital have, no doubt, played a part in the medical center’s ranking as No. 8 on U.S. News and World Reports’ “Best Hospitals of 2001” list.
Sanchez, the assistant director of outpatient services for the hospital’s engineering and environmental services, is responsible for a little more than 1.25 million square feet of space on the 3 million-square-foot campus. During the recent $345 million renovation, an additional 15 floors were added to the main hospital or West Tower, and an 880,000-square-foot, 16-story clinical care center was built to serve the hospital’s outpatient needs, opening its doors in December 2001. Renovation of the Feigin Center, an existing research facility, is currently under way. Of the four buildings that comprise the campus, Sanchez works diligently with others on his team to ensure patient and occupant safety and comfort in both the Clinical Care and Fiegin Centers.
Although Sanchez has only been in his current position for a year and a half, 15 years in the hospitality industry served as good training. Despite this, nothing could prepare him for the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history – tropical storm Allison on June 9, 2001. “We had just completed putting in flood doors that basically locked the hospital off. We were an island in the storm. The hospital never stopped functioning while hospitals around us and connected to us all evacuated,” says Sanchez. With 23 inches of rain falling in four hours, the hospital relied on the flood doors to keep water at bay and generators to keep the hospital functioning. “We were at stand-and-defend mode – meaning we will never evacuate. We have some children, some cases, that just can- not be evacuated,” he explains.
However difficult the challenge, Sanchez’s vigilance and dedication to the facilities and the children for which they were designed are unwavering. “The children are the best part of my job. We’ve designed such a great building for kids,” he explains. If facility systems are not performing properly, a lot is at stake. “Someone’s life is in your hands. Failure is not an acceptable option,” Sanchez stresses. Everything from air-conditioning to life-safety systems and medical vac must perform at peak to provide patients with the best care. Should the city workers break a water main outside, a reserve must be tapped to keep important equipment – the kind used in dialysis and other medical procedures – operational. Emergency and disaster preparedness is paramount.
The power of perseverance is one of Sanchez’s most noteworthy attributes, with straightforward honesty being a close second. “If a problem is a problem, don’t call it an opportunity. Call it what it is, so we can deal with it,” he explains. With the personal motto “Be positive,” Sanchez has tackled problems, risen to the challenge, and found solutions – all with the help of his most important resource, the human resource. Comfortable only in sharing the limelight with everyone involved, Sanchez is a true team player.
Jana J. Madsen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior associate editor at Buildings magazine.