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Center for Surgical Innovation Manages Move – and Leads in Protocol – Amid the Pandemic

CSI creates COVID-19 safety protocol, serving as model for campuswide reopening and labs nationwide

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Written by Chris Casey on July 7, 2020

COVID-19 may have ruined the party as the world-renowned University of Colorado School of Medicine Center for Surgical Innovation (CSI) moved into its new digs this spring, but it didn’t steal its creative drive. Faced with social-distancing restrictions as most of its neighbors on campus shuttered around them, the staff not only managed their move amid the crisis. They served as a model for labs nationwide.

On March 13, just as much of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus was shutting down due to the virus, CSI moved into its first-floor, 8,500-square-foot space in the newly opened Bioscience 3 building, which is part of the Fitzsimons Innovation Community. By early May, the state-of-the-art training center, where healthcare professionals from across the globe learn some of the most complex surgical procedures, was up and running.

“We are very, very busy – the busiest we’ve been in a while, even before the coronavirus,” said Alexandra Hay, lab coordinator. “June, July and August are very booked. One week (coming up) we’re doing nine labs.”

Protocols from scratch

With an Advanced Practice Provider surgical fellowship on the books for May 7, the CSI staff sprang into action to create COVID-19 protocols to ensure safety for both employees and trainees. Hay led the center’s effort, documenting how the center could hold courses and socially distance participants and require personal protective equipment (PPEs) and temperature checks. The protocols, which include a wellness questionnaire and online training courses, were overseen by the CU School of Medicine’s Dean’s Office and ultimately helped inform the campus-wide return-to-campus protocols announced in mid-May.


Bryce Jones, a lab support technician at the Center for Surgical Innovation, demonstrates the presentation features of the Karl-STORZ Endoskope Collaborator.

“I definitely think we were one of the front-runners in getting everybody back on campus and running. We were able to share our protocol with multiple entities on campus,” said CSI Executive Director Sarah Massena.

Additionally, Hay has heard from labs across the country wanting to see CSI’s safety measures. “We’ve been helping with campus protocols and other companies as well,” she said.

Because CSI’s training sessions can’t be as large as usual – the center offers 20 workstations – it’s currently limiting trainings to nine stations. CSI’s expanded footprint – 3,500 square feet larger than the previous space in Bioscience 1 – allows the center to train many people at once while maintaining social distancing.

Although a new conference room in Bioscience 3 can seat 100 people, CSI has removed chairs and limited the room’s capacity to 36.

Serves five surgical departments

The multidisciplinary facility has five founding surgical departments from the CU School of Medicine that help fund its operations. The departments, representing 15 surgical divisions, are Surgery, Orthopedics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Otolaryngology and Neurology. The many “outside” trainings offered by CSI – typically, 70% of the courses are for surgeons from outside CU Anschutz, compared to 30% for residents at the campus –  help subsidize the departmental-member trainings.

‘We were one of the front-runners (on COVID-19 safety protocol).

We were able to share our protocol with multiple entities on campus.’

– CSI Executive Director Sarah Massena

CSI’s trainings attract surgeons from across the globe – serving as a one-stop-shop that coordinates logistics on everything from lodging and transportation to the specimen and equipment needs of each session. Amid the pandemic, the participant pool has largely shifted to labs and clinics across Colorado.

“We’ve also been training a lot of the residents (at CU Anschutz),” Hay said. “Orthopedics, OBGYN and the ENT (ear, nose and throat) residents are scheduling a lot of trainings, and they’re filling up our calendars quite quickly, which is nice.”

CSI needed to move from Bioscience 1 because limited space made it difficult to host large conferences, such as the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists. The CSI hosts almost 400 trainings a year and about 4,500 trainees. Large conferences are expected to take place in the coming months, with most trainees using Zoom to participate.

Many benefits in new, larger space

Eventually, when the current healthcare crisis subsides, “We’ll be able to do trainings with more people because the space is bigger, and we can do more trainings at the same time,” Massena said.

The surgical technique courses, which cover every quadrant of the human body, are taught by world-class experts from the CU School of Medicine.

Other advantages of the new location include easy access into the center from the northwest doors of Bioscience 3, close-in parking and a loading bay that connects directly to CSI’s storage system. The facility receives multiple deliveries of specimens daily.

Not only does CSI educate surgeons on the latest techniques, but it also helps develop new techniques and technologies for improved health outcomes. Playing a key role in both missions is state-of-the-art technology such as the Karl-STORZ Endoskope Collaborator. The Collaborator can be easily moved around the room and features a high-resolution display that allows interactive presentations that can visually link to operating rooms across the world.  

Also soon moving into Bioscience 3 are the Radiology Department from the School of Medicine and Bioengineering Department from the College of Engineering, Design and Computing. “We’re looking forward to getting some new neighbors,” Massena said.

Delayed party: Before the coronavirus pandemic, the Center for Surgical Innovation planned an open house party on April 9, 2020. The center hopes to instead celebrate its one-year anniversary with an open house next spring. For more information about CSI, please visit its website.