Long before hospital-acquired infections became a major national concern, Olive Gray Emmert-Coe understood the importance of proper handling and sterilization of hospital supplies to prevent cross-contamination and the spread of infection. Olive, a 1944 graduate of the Jewish Hospital School of Nursing, is a trailblazer in the area of central sterile supply, now known as materials management or supplies distribution.
With knowledge and skills gained at nursing school, she helped usher in a new way of thinking about aseptic techniques to keep supplies sterile. During her career as a nurse, Olive had a talent for spotting potential sources of cross-contamination.
She noticed supplies trays were wheeled from room to room and patient to patient without being disinfected. In the 1960s, staff members responsible for sharpening needles for syringes, before the days of disposable “sharps” used today, made just 75 cents an hour and never received formalized training.
Notably, she created a college course and certification—the first of its kind in the country—to improve operations in hospitals’ central sterile supply departments. She also founded two educational organizations—the American Society of Central Service Personnel and the Texas Society of Central Service Personnel, sponsored by the American Hospital Association and Texas Hospital Association, respectively—that are still active today. She is now paving the way for other nursing students with a scholarship fund and lecture series in her estate plan through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital at her alma mater, now known as Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College.
“My experience for a month in the central sterile supply department as a student nurse gave me the confidence to go into that field,” she says. “I am and always will be proud of my excellent education. I was well prepared for whatever challenges arose.”
Educating the Next Generation
Her gift to the Foundation will create the annual Olive Gray Emmert-Coe Seminar on the Principles and Practices of Aseptic Techniques. She hopes these lectures will educate the next generation of nurses on the latest and most effective aseptic techniques to prevent infections acquired in hospitals. She also established The Olive Gray Emmert-Coe Nursing Scholarship Fund.
“I hope the scholarship will be given to nurses who really want to do something to make a difference in the hospital and health care, so they won’t have to worry about money and can focus on their education,” Olive says.