COMPTON, Calif. — Infection control might be on everyone’s radar, but it is just one factor in recent changes to healthcare apparel. Peter Menaker, regional sales manager for textile manufacturer, distributor and importer American Dawn, says there are other factors driving changes in the textile industry, too.
Menaker briefed laundry processors and linen distributors during an Association for Linen Management-sponsored webinar, Changes in Healthcare Apparel.
For healthcare workers and laundry managers, infection control can be a major concern.
“As of June 2010, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services stopped reimbursing for the costs of hospital-acquired infections,” he says, “so it became more important for healthcare facilities to make sure there are as few hospital-acquired infections as possible.”
Along with anitmicrobial treatments and patient satisfaction (see Part 1), another major driving factor that Menaker addressed is the cost and availability of cotton and the price of gasoline, both of which are of great concern to the textile industry.
Polyester, made with oil byproducts, has become an acceptable alternative to cotton, although the high price of oil could temper a large-scale shift. Polyester can now be engineered to be more like cotton, wicking away fluids and feeling soft against the skin. The textile industry could be, despite oil prices, heading toward using more polyester in reaction to the instability in the cotton crop.
Most healthcare facilities are implementing new policies and procedures in light of the driving factors changing the face of healthcare apparel. All of the participants polled during Menaker’s webinar have experienced policy changes related to isolation-gown use, for instance, according to the webinar moderator.
“I think we are seeing new and stronger policies and procedures from our infection control departments,” he says. “I was talking with one laundry manager, and he let me know that they’re now doing pre-admission screening on every patient that’s admitted to their long-term care facility.”
The screening is to ensure that people being admitted are not contagious, carrying one of the antibiotic-resistant diseases such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
Another response involves designer patient apparel, Menaker says.
“I expect that with the feels-like-home textile lines that we’re seeing, that more and more like-home fabrications and designs may come into play in patient wear, and in other textile products, too,” he says.
Hospitals also are implementing initiatives related to identification of patients prone to falling. While this doesn’t sound like an issue for laundry personnel, it can be, since certain types of patient gowns may be issued to assist hospital personnel.
“A number of textile products are out on the market now to help to identify the patients in the hospital who may be prone to falling,” Menaker says. “One is the patient gown.”
Bright colors such as yellow or red are being used as identifiers.
“I’m sure (you laundry managers) have experienced a little angst with exactly how do you fully process a bright red gown to make sure it doesn’t turn all of your white linens pink,” he says.
Brightly colored socks are also being used to distinguish fall-prone patients from others. “And you can see on the soles of these slippers are non-skid treads to help prevent the falls.”
Nurses are entering the picture as well, through their ability to adapt garments to meet a patient’s needs.
“Nurses have always been fairly competent at providing themselves with what they need, even in textiles,” Menaker says. “Before the advent of the IV gown with the snap sleeve, nurses were very good with splitting the sleeves to get gowns changed. So they’ve seen now, with more people having IVs, that IV gowns are coming more into use.”
Half of those participating in Menaker’s webinar indicated that they have seen a change in their facilities as to where scrubs are processed. He noted that a home-laundering program for scrubs invites the possibility of outside contamination. “If the scrub were able to be effectively treated so that any germs on the scrub were killed before the scrub left the hospital, that would make sense.”
Most facilities are not enthused about going to a home-laundering program, he believes. “I wouldn’t imagine that it’s something that’s going to catch on in a big way, but again, the studies still have not been done to determine if that would make sense or not.”
Play a Role in Change
Clinicians are the ones to decide what level of protection they require against the possibility of hospital-acquired infections.
“Risk management and infection prevention, we’ve seen both of these (relatively new departments) making changes. They recommend and implement the policies and procedures of the hospital,” Menaker says. “And, also, we as laundry processors, we’re certainly involved in these changes in textiles. We’re tasked with processing anything new that the staff have decided they need. “
Unfortunately, Menaker says, the laundry processors are often brought in after a decision and with the policy already headed toward implementation.
“We need to make sure that an infection preventionist, and now a risk manager as well, are included on the linen committee, and that we get a chance to raise our hands and have input,” he says. “Because anything they decide won’t be any good after it cycles through the laundry if it can’t be processed properly.”
Whatever decisions are made, Menaker says, it’s important to have a dialogue and options to talk over with the people who are looking to implement a change.
“I think we are seeing more and more changes, and I think we will continue to,” he says.