How to reduce HAIs while reducing costs

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Dave Frank
Dave Frank

The prevalence of healthcare-associated infections is reaching alarming levels, and the overall improvement to eliminate adverse events, including HAI, has been slow, according to an study reported in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology. Cleaning managers are under increased pressure to keep operating costs down, and results from a recent cleaning industry insights survey by P&G Professional show that 76% of professionals in the healthcare sector reported feeling this pressure (up 11% over 2014). Today's cleaning managers need to find ways to be more efficient so that they can contain costs while still working to minimize outbreaks and other infections stemming from pathogens and germs being transmitted in long-term care environments.

Most healthcare cleaning managers surveyed reported that they are keeping costs down by finding ways to be more efficient, including training staff (51%) and reducing turnover (50%). With more than 39 years experience designing educational programs and best practices for the cleaning industry, I know that these managers are on the right track to improving their overall efficiencies, both in terms of reducing costs and improving the quality of cleanliness in their LTC environments.

The importance of training

Cleaning professionals in long-term care face unique challenges. Although it seems like intuitive work, proper cleaning is highly technical, and serious consequences result if disinfection procedures aren't completed properly. Because correct cleaning procedures must be learned, one of the main keys to ensuring a clean and disinfected environment is staff training.  

Overall staff training results in:

  • Understanding cleaning chemicals, their applications and how to best use those products;
  • Fewer job-related injuries;
  • Higher production rates;
  • Fewer complaints and higher levels of satisfaction; and
  • Less turnover of trained workers.

Improper cleaning procedures can lead to increased infections and outbreaks, such as norovirus. Staff members should be provided with regular formal trainings and procedures such as these, provided by P&G Professional, to educate staff members on the difference between cleaning and disinfecting and how these processes affect the spread of infection.

Cleaning is the process of removing soil from a surface as soil can harbor germs, such as influenza. Disinfecting is the process of killing the germs. Cleaning well allows disinfecting agents to work more effectively. Multipurpose products can simplify this process as they require no pre-cleaning and can get the job done in one step.

Know the touch points

An easy way to help combat the spread of germs is to pay special attention to the top touch points in LTC facilities. These touch points are where high levels germ transmissions can occur, so they should be addressed in training and checked regularly by management to ensure they are being cleaned and disinfected as required.

These critical touch points include, but are not limited to:

  • Contaminated hands. Hand hygiene is one of the most effective measures. It's been found that up to 50% of healthcare employees fail to adhere to recommended hand hygiene measures, however.
  • Contaminated surfaces. Contaminated hands can sequentially transfer some viruses to up to seven surfaces, and 14 people can be contaminated by touching the same object one after another.
  • Infected residents. Residents infected with pathogens frequently contaminate items in their immediate vicinity, so it's important to regularly clean and disinfect common areas. Over half of all norovirus outbreaks reported in the United States occur in LTC facilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's critical to immediately and properly respond after a vomiting or diarrheal event to help reduce the likelihood that the area may become contaminated and that others may become ill as a result of the accident.
  • Blood pressure cuffs. Recognized as a potential means of transmission, one study found that 13% of cuffs were contaminated with potentially pathogenic bacteria.
  • Bathrooms. Bathrooms consistently top the list of the most important area to clean (32% of survey respondents agreed), as well as ranking first as the most difficult area to clean (44% of respondents agreed).

Long-term benefits of training

While being vitally important to the health and wellness of your residents, cleanliness also is directly related to revenue in LTC settings and therefore could be considered not just a cost center but a profit center.

It takes time and energy to establish proper cleaning protocols and, in fact, 25% of survey respondents cited loss of work productivity as their biggest challenge with cleaning-related training. The eventual dividends of establishing a cleaning training program are huge, however, because it results in so many benefits. Employees who are trained properly have been shown in numerous studies to be less likely to leave — reducing turnover and training costs — and to take more pride in improving residents' environments through proper cleaning and disinfecting techniques. All of these environmental factors influence a family's first impression and overall resident satisfaction. Residents are more comfortable in a clean, inviting atmosphere that helps them feel at home, whether that's visible cleanliness to fresh smelling linens to a clutter-free space. In fact, in a 2014 survey conducted in association with P&G Professional and the American Association for Long Term Care Nursing, 100% of caregivers agreed that providing a home-like environment is important to the well-being of residents.

On the other hand, the effects of not investing in training can really affect your facility because you run the risk of dissatisfied residents or complaints — a top concern for 52% of those surveyed — which can lead to families choosing to move their loved ones away from your facility.

In summary, investing in staff training around cleaning procedures and protocols will help cleaning managers reduce costs and prevent HAIs.

Dave Frank is a professional cleaning and maintenance expert, president of the American Institute of Cleaning Sciences and a member of the Advisory Council for P&G Professional. AICS is an independent, third-party accreditation organization that establishes standards to improve the professional performance of the cleaning industry.

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