By Aine Cryts

“No two days are the same.” That’s one of the reasons Margaret “Maggie” Berkey, CBET, 2021 recipient of the AAMI & GE Healthcare “BMET of the Year” Award, loves her career in healthcare technology management (HTM).

That was true even before the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. One marked difference during the worst of the pandemic was the stepped-up need for respiratory therapy equipment. Immediately, Berkey’s primary concern shifted to making sure the potentially life-saving equipment was “ready to go” at a moment’s notice.

Berkey’s role as a senior BMET took on additional meaning when the equipment she worked on had the potential to save lives on a scale she’d never witnessed before in her career. Specifically, her days were often filled stocking the various parts that commonly fail in respiratory therapy equipment, such as heaters for ventilators and connectors for air and oxygen.

It was “all-hands-on-deck,” says Berkey, as soon as ventilator equipment arrived at CommonSpirit Health in Kearney, Neb. (formerly CHI Good Samaritan Campus), where she has worked since 2018. First, the parts had to be unboxed and then used to help patients with COVID-19 who were in severe respiratory distress. (CommonSpirit Health, the country’s largest nonprofit health system, includes more than 1,000 care centers and 137 hospitals across 21 states.)

Berkey’s team had a “very limited timeframe” to fix ventilators that weren’t working, she remembers. It would start with an error message on the machine, which then prompted a visit from a biomed technician. CommonSpirit Health’s goal: To triage, diagnose, and repair the ventilator so that it could be put back into service immediately, Berkey explains.

Fortunately, the pandemic appears to be subsiding in her area. As of this writing, no new COVID-19 cases had been reported over the last week in Kearney, and more than 43% of the area’s population 16 years of age and older had been fully vaccinated, according to Two Rivers Public Health Department; this includes data for residents in Kearney and six other neighboring counties. November 2020 was the worst month for diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Kearney County, where Berkey works, reports the New York Times. On Nov. 20, 2020, 77 people were hospitalized with the virus in Kearney County.

Supporting Patient Care Delivery during the Pandemic

Looking back now, Berkey describes feeling “heavy and motivated” during the darkest days of the pandemic. “[That said,] I’ve always felt like HTM is important work. It contributes to the greater good,” she tells 24×7 Magazine.

During those challenging days, she worried about the chance that she or her family could get sick. But it also motivated Berkey to “jump out of bed in the morning,” she says.

“I had to get that ventilator up and running,” she says. Still, Berkey missed going on rounds where she could see patients and staff members. She also missed seeing people’s smiles during her workday; she still does. “You could feel it in the air as you walked through the hallways [when COVID-19 admissions were high], the gravity of the situation. There was a lot of sadness. I was just trying to work through it the best that I could in the moment,” Berkey remembers.

Just like her clinician colleagues and fellow HTM team members, Berkey showed up because patients needed her. “That’s why everyone is here,” she muses.

Restrictions have eased up at CommonSpirit Health since the start of the pandemic, says Berkey. But the hallways are still filled with patients and colleagues who are wearing masks. The good news: Her coworkers are wearing less of the personal protective equipment that looks like “big space suits” these days.

Training the Next Generation of Biomeds

Berkey is not only focused on what’s currently in front of her; she also has her eyes on the future. “It’s no secret that the healthcare technology management industry is facing a human resources crisis,” wrote Berkey in a July 2020 post for AAMI’s blog. She observed that 60% of the current workforce is 52 years of age or older. Exacerbating the future workforce challenge is the fact that HTM educational programs have been shutting down. “The need for skilled talent is being felt everywhere,” Berkey added.

In 2019, AAMI put out a call for HTM “Shark Tank” proposals for the AAMI Exchange, the association’s annual conference and expo. (The Shark Tank event, which was modeled after the TV series on ABC, pit ideas for advancing ideas within the HTM field against each other.) Berkey, who co-leads AAMI’s Technology Management Council subcommittee, responded with her proposal for creating a career path for entry-level biomed technicians through on-the-job training.

After consulting with her peers in the biomed field, Berkey became even more confident that the apprenticeship was a viable way to solve the future workforce crisis. Specifically, her proposal had built-in flexibility: Wages would be determined on a regional basis and the program could be implemented at both union and non-union healthcare facilities.

The apprenticeship is a win-win for employers, employees, AAMI, and the HTM industry as a whole, wrote Berkey, who relied on a variety of AAMI resources and BMET experts to create the competencies for an entry-level BMET in the program.

Employers, especially in rural areas, will build a viable career path for community members, while employees are paid for their work and have their formal training paid for by their employers. Regarding AAMI and the industry, the adoption of a nationwide curriculum that relies on core competencies will result in consistency among HTM professionals, many of whom will pursue CBET certification, according to Berkey.

Securing Formal Approval for AAMI’S BMET Apprenticeship Program

In March, AAMI announced that the U.S. Department of Labor had approved the BMET apprenticeship program. The organization’s announcement credited the work of Berkey and Danielle McGeary, AAMI’s vice president of HTM.

“The idea is to take individuals practically off the street, near wherever positions need filling, and train them on the job,” said Berkey, in the announcement. “They learn from other BMETs with 20 or 30 years of experience, while getting valuable hands-on experience—and by the time they’re done training, they’re ready to go on call.”

Berkey explained that apprentices would learn the policies and safety procedures where they did their training, in addition to understanding the facility’s equipment and building relationships with colleagues. Those are the “critical interactions that you can’t train for with a textbook,” she said.

Replacing the four-year BMET program that dates back to the 1990s, the new AAMI program requires 4,000 to 6,000 hours of paid, on-the-job training in topics such as anatomy, electronics, information technology, and safety. Upon completion of their training, apprentices will earn AAMI’s CABT (Certified Associate in Biomedical Technology) certification for professionals starting in the BMET field, a certification in IT fundamentals, and then become a certified BMET, per AAMI.

 Living Out Her ‘Wildest Dreams’

“Mind-blowing” and “unbelievable.” Those are two words Berkey uses to describe learning that she had won the AAMI & GE Healthcare “BMET of the Year” Award. In fact, she didn’t even know that she had been nominated for the award, she reveals to 24×7 Magazine.

“I’m blessed. It’s beyond my wildest dreams,” she says. “I never even wished for this, but I’m so grateful to be recognized for this contribution to our field. This is only the beginning of the work. It’s great that we got approval for the apprenticeship.”

Next up is implementing the apprenticeship program. And she’s prepared, with the same focus she dedicated to ventilator repair during the height of the pandemic, to help train the biomed workforce of the future.

Aine Cryts is a contributing writer for 24×7 Magazine. Questions and comments can be directed to Keri Forsythe-Stephens at [email protected].

Berkey Basics

Maggie Berkey grew up in Mitchell, S.D., where she returns to visit friends and family regularly. While most of her biomed career was spent in Minnesota, she and her husband moved to Kearney, Neb., in 2018 to spend time with her grandson. Berkey looks forward to welcoming her second grandson in July.

What follows are four of Berkey’s favorite things.

  • Favorite hobby: Spending time with family, she says, because life is short, and kids grow up too fast.
  • Favorite book: “You are Special” by Max Lucado because it reminds Berkey of what’s truly important, which is that we’re all special.
  • Favorite musician or musicians: “I love anything that gets me up and moving or singing along because that helps me enjoy the moment I’m in,” she says. 
  • Favorite way to spend a day off: A homemade mocha and meditation to kick off the day, followed by hanging out with her kids, grandson (soon to be grandsons), and her husband. Throwing in some time laughing and catching up with the friends she’s made throughout the years rounds out a perfect day for Berkey.

A.C.