How COVID-19 has changed healthcare cleaning procedures forever


By Jim Bottomley*
Tuesday, 14 July, 2020



How COVID-19 has changed healthcare cleaning procedures forever

Talented doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals rely on clean and hygienic facilities. That’s why good cleaning procedures and hygiene protocols have always been a key priority in health care.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that current methods of cleaning, hygiene and PPE use were insufficient for coping with new threats. So, how have cleaning procedures changed and what will they look like in the ‘new normal’ of the post-COVID-19 world?

Increased hygiene protocols are here to stay

COVID-19 is something we will all have to live with for the foreseeable future, and the cleaning and hygiene measures developed during the pandemic will become the new standard, rather than the exception.

Healthcare facilities must partner with experienced cleaning professionals that can carry out these increased measures without disrupting patients, visitors or staff. That means carefully scheduling cleans, so they take place either side of high-use periods, and having plans in place to ensure high touchpoints are disinfected as often as required.

Service teams will also need to be flexible. Healthcare facilities have continually changing needs, and cleaners need to be able to adapt to new situations and possible threats.

Simply increasing the frequency of cleaning and hygiene will add to cleaning costs and interfere with how staff and patients interact with the facility. A strategic and targeted approach will keep patients and staff safe with minimal disruption and expense.

Some cleaning firms are pivoting to technology to optimise service delivery. Tracking technology means providers can monitor how often areas and assets are utilised and build cleaning schedules around this profiling.

For example:

  • Tracking technology shows that one reception is only used in the morning.
  • The service team cleans the reception before and after this period of use.
  • The service team can focus on other areas of the facility until the next clean is required.
     

This targeted approach ensures each area is appropriately serviced and avoids waste and poor performance associated with over- or underservicing.

Everyone has a role to play

Before COVID-19, visitors and patients had a passive role in ensuring that the hygiene of the facility was maintained. Now, education is paramount in ensuring that everyone is adhering to personal hygiene standards. Directors of Nursing need to ensure that educational posters are prominently placed around the facility to act as reminders or training aids for anyone visiting the facility.

Facilities also need to ensure they have adequate stocks of hygiene supplies, such as hand sanitiser, gloves, masks and other PPE. Education is only useful if visitors and staff have the resources on hand to implement acquired knowledge.

Effective facility cleaning and hygiene procedures will be undone if personal hygiene protocol isn’t followed. So, focusing on the latter will help ensure the success of the former.

Single-use items are a must

The term ‘single-use’ has negative connotations, but it’s important to remember that single-use doesn’t have to mean disposable.

Cloths and mops and other cleaning materials can be changed after each use. Changing and washing after use will drastically reduce the risk of transferring infectious agents without having to throw materials away. To ensure user and patient safety, some PPE does need to be disposed of. Masks should be changed regularly, and gloves need to be changed after every task — even during tasks in high-risk areas.

A ‘use’ will vary from task to task, but cleaners need to be careful not to transfer potential infectious agents from one surface or area to another. Mops and cloths should be changed when moving between rooms or zones and even surface types.

Cleaners are essential staff

COVID-19 has shown just how essential cleaners are in ensuring public safety. Cleaning professionals have been frontline workers during the pandemic and they will be crucial in making a successful transition into the post-COVID-19 context.

Directors of Nursing need to put as much effort into finding quality cleaning providers as they do in finding nurses, doctors and administrative staff. Quality providers invest in their service teams and ensure facilities have the necessary training and equipment to deliver clean and hygienic facilities.

Retaining staff is also essential. Cleaning healthcare facilities requires specialist knowledge, and every time you lose a team member, you lose that knowledge. Fair pay, good working conditions and providing the right tools, equipment and PPE go a long way towards improving retention rates.

*Jim Bottomley has worked in facilities management for over 30 years. He has specialised in understanding how viruses mutate and spread through facilities and in designing processes and procedures for mitigating risk. He is currently the General Manager for the Health and Precincts Division at BIC Services.

Image credit: ©adobe.stock.com/au/somchai20162516

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