SHAWNEE MISSION, Kan. — It’s the “hot-button” issue of the decade—superbugs and how to effectively fight and control outbreaks of infection in healthcare and hospitality environments.
Specifically known by such names as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), Clostridium difficile (C. diff) or norovirus, these types of superbugs cost U.S. industry billions of dollars a year, not to mention the hardship on persons who contract such infections. Death and prolonged illness are common.
Companies that provide linen and uniform services have been implicated in the chain of infection more than once.
While the problem has been typically linked to improper delivery or storage of textiles at the client location, rather than the laundry process itself, more and more launderers are proactively signing up for certification or accreditation to prove that their facilities follow the highest processing standards possible.
Understanding how customers view the situation and how they are preparing to tackle the problem in the future are key for profitability in the 21st century. This article attempts to provide perspective on the issue of infection control in the healthcare arena and how clients view its impact on future operations.
WHAT INFECTION SPECIALISTS SAY
“For many years, we focused on the transmission of organisms from staff to patient and then back to staff,” says Peggy Luebbert, MS, CIC, CHSP, CBSPD, certified infection preventionist at Nebraska Orthopedic Hospital in Omaha, Neb. “But in the past five years, we have recognized that transmission through the environment is a big issue, too. Any inanimate object that serves as a fomite that workers may touch is an area of concern for infection control. The focus today is to prevent or minimize any transmission between surfaces and people, as well as between people.”
Luebbert says many hospitals look to OSHA’s Hierarchy of Control in regard to infection prevention. This includes a focus on protecting workers in order of importance: eliminate hazards, engineer solutions, follow procedural controls and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
In the future, she believes healthcare will see even more engineered controls, such as safe textiles that prevent the growth of organisms.
“We already have some excellent safe textiles on the market and expect them to get even better in the future,” she says.
Some doubt there will ever be engineered solutions effective enough to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria.
“There are many new products that strive to prevent infection, but what we are seeing is that there is no silver bullet. You must couple these ideas with good practice of the basics of infection prevention” says Barb Connell, MS, MT(ASCP)SH, vice president of Clinical Services for Medline, Mundelein, Ill.
“I believe that in the future, we will see a new focus on the basics. Ebola really opened people’s eyes as to how ill-equipped our healthcare organizations were to deal with the disease,” she says. “It was an extreme example, but we learned that basic gowning procedures weren’t being followed for PPE.”
What are the implications for the textile services industry? On the supplier side, engineered advances in textile technology, chemistry and machinery can help minimize or, in the future, perhaps eliminate the spread of bacteria.
On the laundry side, incorporating the highest standards for processing healthcare textiles is critical. Certification or accreditation of one’s facility makes good sense.
Beyond that, training employees and clients in the proper handling and storage of linen is of paramount importance. It can’t be overstated. Many laundries conduct regular in-service training with clients on best practices for linen handling. But it’s a challenge to get clients to attend these events.
“We need more education for healthcare workers on why and how they should follow best practices for infection control,” says Connell. “Hospitals provide mandatory training in CPR, but not for standard contact precautions. I think we might see this change — it is probably the most important thing we can do to help keep staff and patients safe.”
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