RICHMOND, Ky. — “Do no harm” remains the cardinal rule for healthcare professionals, and the “Safe Patient Handling” programs instilled in many facilities today aids them in ensuring that patients receive proper care when being moved or transferred.
“What it comes down to is providing patient handling, with the use of equipment with the effort to [reduce] injuries associated to manual moving, lifting [and] transferring of patients,” says Steve Hoffman, director of education and training for patient lift systems manufacturer Medcare Lifts.
Hoffman partnered with the Association for Linen Management (ALM) to host the webinar Maintenance and Utilization Practices for Patient Safety Devices to discuss best practices for healthcare facilities and the use of patient safety devices, particularly slings and lifts.
LAUNDRY’S ROLE: INSPECTION AND CARE
Hoffman stressed that laundry professionals have a first-hand account of inspecting the integrity of the slings, especially during the initial stages of laundering.
“[Laundry professionals] are coming across and getting [their] hands on each and every one of these slings on a regular basis, so that provides … an opportunity for somebody to inspect [the slings],” says Hoffman. “The laundry process itself can affect the integrity of [slings]. Harsh chemicals [and] high drying temperatures are implemented, [which] can greatly reduce the lifespan of these slings.”
So what exactly are the signs of wear and tear in slings? Look for rips, tears and even discoloration, Hoffman advises.
“Just about every manufacturer’s sling comes in a particular color. One of the reasons for these slings to be in color … is so that you can identify a sling that has been bleached, and you can identify the wear and tear.”
In terms of standard laundering procedures for reusable slings, each manufacturer has its own set of instructions and guidelines. Refer to those guidelines when it comes time to launder them, he says.
Blurring the laundering process is the fact that there are no industry “standards for cleanliness” when it comes to slings.
“We know that our devices are Class I, non-critical items,” says Hoffman. “Class I devices are not intended for use in supporting or sustaining life, or to be substantial in human health. … They’re non-invasive devices. They’re the lowest level of medical devices and so therefore there aren’t any specific guidelines for laundering these slings.”
Generally, it isn’t necessary to sterilize slings. A machine wash using mild detergents, with a maximum water temperature of 165 F, is all that is needed to launder his company’s slings, for example. Spot cleaning between washing is also recommended, he adds.
“This isn’t to say that someday in the near future, we won’t see a standard or some more specific guidelines on these devices, but for now, this is what’s going on with patient slings,” says Hoffman.
He cautions against using bleach or other harsh chemicals when washing slings. “Bleach is one of those chemicals that laundry folks feel very confident when they use it. [But] harsh chemicals are not what we recommend during a laundering cycle.”
Another factor that plays an important role in sling laundering is the drying time, which can vary by manufacturer, according to Hoffman. “Medcare does allow drying of their slings up to 175 F, and I’ve seen more and more … manufacturers [allow] tumble dry.”
But, there are also slings that are specifically made to hang-dry only, which Hoffman says can affect replenishment of the sling supply back to the nursing staff.
“Some of these factors not only affect how laundry departments do their job, but can also impact the safe patient program as a whole, and again tying back to the time and the process of returning slings back to staff, and how that affects the availability and quantities available to staff,” he says.
Hoffman recommends that healthcare facilities involve the laundry when making sling purchases.
“Laundry plays a critical role in handling, arguably, the most critical component of this whole safe patient-handling process,” he says. “I would encourage [laundry professionals] to speak up and get involved, because you’re the ones that are going to have to deal with the laundering process.”
He stresses the importance of healthcare facilities researching laundering instructions and procedures of slings to know just how it will impact its overall Safe Patient Handling program.
“This whole area is often overlooked, and so knowing what the [laundering] process is, how long it takes and using that information to come up with a purchasing ratio or a par level that ultimately provides adequate quantities of slings.”
“Some of these facilities are spending large amounts of capital dollars on Safe Patient Handling equipment, and so overlooking an area like slings and [the] laundering process can really impact negatively on the ROI that we typically see when this equipment is purchased and properly used.”