Sanitizing, Disinfecting & Purifying: The New Normal for Healthcare Facilities
COVID-19 has redefined the standards of healthcare facilities everywhere.
Now that vaccines are here, many anticipate a return to normal life soon — walking into the supermarket unmasked and visiting friends and family guilt-free. These will be welcomed changes indeed.
But on the professional side of life, healthcare facilities directors like you may never return to the old normal. Some changes will be permanent and maybe for the best. Not just in healthcare facilities, but in every public space, the pandemic has brought cleanliness, safety, and infection control into sharp focus.
Facility managers have seen their profession permanently redefined to include a new standard of normal for cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing. As if that were not enough, it's now also part of the job to reaffirm public confidence in your facility even if your track record through the pandemic has been stellar.
The battle continues to rage intensely, and healthcare facilities in many areas of the country are overburdened. As pressure mounts from those trusting in your leadership, what is your plan for keeping staff, patients, and guests from getting sick?
Make Cleaning and Disinfection Visible
Here's a short fable to make a point. Facilities director Lottie and facility manager Fred both have implemented rigorous plans that include regular cleaning and disinfection, backed up by thorough and ongoing training. Yet poor Fred is getting far more negative communication than Lottie, consisting mainly of pushback from management and building occupants who fear that not enough is being done.
What's the difference? Director Lottie puts cleaning and disinfection in the spotlight by making sure frequently touched surfaces in busy areas are cleaned throughout the day. And when disinfection is done in off-hours, she addresses the psychological need to know by posting clear signage about what cleaning and disinfection measures are performed and by sharing messaging and materials during meetings. Fred does none of these things.
Signs can be relatively inexpensive, so consider posting plenty of them throughout your healthcare facility with reminders about social distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing, and cough etiquette.
Establish Best-practice Protocols
Make sure your cleaning and disinfection plan is reviewed and revised frequently based on the latest safety, infection control, and cleaning protocols from public health organizations. CDC's Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, 2008 (updated 2019) is worth reviewing, as are OSHA's Hospital eTool about Housekeeping, and the EPA's Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting document, which contains many links to additional resources.
Providing safety depends on making a sustained effort to adhere to the cleaning and disinfection protocols you establish. Every procedure and step counts; none should be skipped. For example, cleaning first is vital to effective disinfection. If a surface is covered with bacteria, that bioburden can prevent the disinfectant from reaching it. Thorough cleaning must always precede disinfection.
Train & Retrain All Staff
The success of any plan to prevent the spread of infection depends on well-designed procedures for cleaning and disinfection, communicated clearly so that staff knows how to implement them.
Training should cover specifics such as how to:
- Disinfect with the recommended tools.
- Properly don and doff the required personal protective equipment (PPE).
- Choose the appropriate chemical for cleaning and disinfection.
- Carry out work instructions effectively and consistently.
In addition to training, you must monitor and audit how PPE is used and make sure instructions are followed consistently. It's not unusual for randomly-questioned hospital professionals to admit they had no PPE training at all. But even among those who do, practices drift, and not always in the direction you might expect. For example, overuse of disinfectants can occur as well as underuse.
Choose the Best Products & Tools
To keep facility occupants safe, you also must deal with the airborne transmission of viruses and bacteria. Airborne transmission is a primary vector for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. And as you know, if you've read the HEPACART® blog before, we have written extensively on the topic. For example, here are four ways airborne transmission of pathogens can be significantly reduced:
- Dilute indoor air with fresh air from outside the building.
- Get an HVAC expert to help optimize air distribution patterns.
- Upgrade your HVAC system with better filters.
- Bring in medical-grade air purifiers with HEPA filters and far-UVC germicidal lights for supplemental air purification (e.g., HEPAFORCE® GermBuster Room Air Purifier with UV-FORCE®).
A certified, licensed HVAC provider can adjust many aspects of system design to do such things as:
- Implementing "clean to less clean" airflow.
- Establishing a 30-foot minimum between exhaust outlets and outside air intakes.
- Maintaining temperature between 70 and 75 degrees F (21-24 degrees C).
- Ensuring systems are not turned off to avoid contamination by molds and fungi.
- Recommending a maintenance plan tailored to your facility's particular environmental conditions.
Purify the Air with Supplemental Sources
Even with fully optimized HVAC, healthcare facilities benefit from supplemental equipment to purify the air. That's our specialty at HEPACART®, and we’re a trusted provider of fully-tested medical-grade machines such as:
HEPAFORCE® AIR Negative Air Machines & Scrubbers: Choose one of these HEPA-filtered machines based on unit size.
HEPAFORCE® GermBuster Room Air Purifier with UV-FORCE®: This machine features far-UVC technology.
UV-FORCE® Airborne Disinfection Module: This module utilizes far-UVC technology and is designed to work with AnteRoom Room Isolation Units as well as virtually any HEPA-filtered negative air machine on the market.
Feel free to explore the products above. For additional perspective, read our recent post, 5 Reasons Why Facility Directors Choose HEPACART® Products.
- Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities (updated 2019) (CDC)
- OSHA Hospital eTool: Housekeeping
- Navigating the New Normal in Infection Prevention (Infection Control Today)
- 4 Ways to Destroy Airborne Pathogens in Public Spaces
- COVID-19 Recommendations for Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning in Healthcare Facilities (PAHO)
- Why The New Normal Demands Beyond-Normal Cleaning And Disinfection (Facilities.net)