Laundry Under Greater Scrutiny As Hospitals Shore Up Against Infections (Part 1)

Bruce Beggs |

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Healthcare-associated infections (HAI) strike 2 million Americans annually, killing 99,000—more people die from HAI than car accidents and homicides combined.
“The statistics are pretty brutal,” says Linda Homan, RN, CIC, a longtime infection-control professional who works for Ecolab Healthcare’s Clinical and Professional Services. “They really do speak for themselves.”
And as the numbers of HAI mount, so, too, does their cost to healthcare, up to $50 billion annually, Homan explained during her keynote address at the Association for Linen Management’s (ALM) Annual Conference.
So, hospitals are looking for all possible sources of these infections, and leaving no stone unturned. Not even the laundry is immune to having to go under the microscope, particularly since a recent fungal-infection outbreak was traced back to a hospital’s linens.HEALTHCARE TRENDS
Medical expenditures will grow to $3 trillion by 2015, Homan says, thanks in large part to an aging population that is “getting sicker and sicker.” And there are emerging infections such as H1N1 and SARS putting added pressure on the system.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) has begun to exclude funding for five “preventable” conditions, including hospital-acquired infections.
“I don’t disagree with that, necessarily, but it’s a change for healthcare in general—the concept that if something occurs on their watch, they might not get paid for it.”
These trends are leading to increasing pressure from customers, Homan says, who are more closely studying factors like accreditation, mandatory reporting of infection rates, patient and physician satisfaction ratings, and the positions of consumer advocacy groups before making their healthcare decisions.
And media headlines are quick to focus attention on medical mistakes and suspect hygienic practices.
A hospital’s laundry service, which has rarely been blamed when an infection arises, could now find itself standing in the police lineup with the usual suspects.
“In healthcare and infection control, textile care or laundry hasn’t been something that we’ve focused on a lot,” Homan says. “We’ve been very focused on the immediate patient environment in terms of their illnesses [and] their disease processes.
“The pendulum is starting to swing a little bit, and we’re starting to look a little bit more at what are the other factors that might be influencing infection rates. The environment is a very hot topic right now.”ORIGINS OF INFECTION PREVENTION
Healthcare infection prevention began in the 1950s with the advent of intensive-care units and in an effort to control increasing staphylococcal infections, Homan says.
It grew in the next two decades at the urging of various organizations such as The Joint Commission, and has continued to expand its areas of influence through state and federal agencies, professional and non-profit organizations, and scientific information published in journals.
Infection preventionists play a role in preventing healthcare-associated infections, ensuring that all in a hospital setting adhere to policies and regulations for infection prevention, and work to ensure that infection outbreaks are minimized or eliminated.
“The hospital is a business, and infections cost money, but so do the interventions we use to prevent infections, so we always have to be thinking about the budget,” Homan says.Check back on Friday for Part 2 of this story.

About the author

Bruce Beggs

American Trade Magazines LLC

Editorial Director, American Trade Magazines LLC

Bruce Beggs is editorial director of American Trade Magazines LLC, including American Coin-Op, American Drycleaner and American Laundry News. He was the editor of American Laundry News from November 1999 to May 2011. Beggs has worked as a newspaper reporter/editor and magazine editor since graduating from Kansas State University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications. He and his wife, Sandy, have two children.


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