Face of InnoVAtion is a regular series from the VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) focusing on VA employees who are working to forge the future of Veteran care through innovation. This month meet Robert Bankston, Environmental Management Service (EMS) chief at the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System (HCS).
Robert Bankston wears a lot of hats. He is not only the EMS chief at the VA Northeast HCS but a writer, producer and director. He is also a Naval wartime Veteran, having served during Desert Shield/Desert Storm, a husband to an Army Veteran, a father to five children, and a grandfather as well. All these experiences lend to Bankston’s capability as an innovator, which merged with support from the Veterans Health Administration Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) to create a solution that is improving the health care experience at VA.
Bankston joined VA in 2009 during a time when his life was in transition. The Navy Veteran started working as an EMS housekeeping aid, making sure that Veterans found a clean, safe and welcoming hospital when they arrived for care. Over the next six years he rose to become the EMS chief, supervising a full team of EMS employees and coordinating efforts across the HCS. It was during this time that the spark for innovation took hold.
In 2014, Bankston noticed communication issues concerning the sanitization and readiness of hospital equipment among the wide variety of people who interact with it – an issue especially important during the past year. That led him to develop, over the course of multiple years, the EMS CLEAN Cover. These plastic covers are applied over cleaned and sterilized furniture, equipment, etc. to provide an added layer of protection against contaminants/germs and provide a visual indication to staff, families and patients that the equipment is clean, allowing for peace of mind for patients and staff and increased efficiency for the HCS.
“I would encourage everyone who has a spark to fuel it with commitment and dedication from beginning to middle to end,” Bankston said of developing his innovative idea. “My spark for the EMS Clean Plastic Cover began in 2014 but took a few years to manifest.”
Bankston’s innovation was first supported by the VHA Innovators Network, where he gained the experience and knowledge to build and develop the EMS CLEAN Cover. From there he entered the VHA Shark Tank Competition and is now working to spread his innovation further in VA through the VHA Diffusion of Excellence. He is now working with the VA Sunshine Healthcare Network and the VA Great Lakes HCS to implement the covers at their facilities.
“The innovation space provides a forum and platform for you to enhance your project, ideas, and networking,” he said. “You are provided with consistent support locally and nationally throughout the process.”
Allison Amrhein is the director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network and communications lead for the VHA Innovation Ecosystem.