May 22, 2019

Motivating Your Environmental Services Team To Improve The Bottom Line - George Clarke Forbes Councils

Researchers estimate that antimicrobial resistance could cause 10 million deaths and cost $100 trillion by 2050. A 2017 report by the World Bank Group found that drug-resistant infections have the potential to cause an economic crisis similar to the 2008 recession. The report goes on to say that tackling drug-resistant infections is one of the highest-yield investments countries can make.

Healthcare environmental services (ES) staff are a crucial, yet unheralded, factor in preventing drug-resistant infections. One study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that healthcare-associated Clostridium difficile infection (also known as CDI or C. diff, and just one example of a superbug infection) can result from the bacteria found on hospital environmental surfaces. Without proper cleaning of such surfaces, cross-contamination can occur, resulting in a preventable, healthcare-associated infection (pHAI). The study showed that, with the proper ES protocols in place, CDI rates fell to zero over the course of 1,000 patient days. This is a recent addition to a growing body of research that highlights the importance of ES education and accountability. From my perspective, this data recognizes the role played by ES staff in reducing healthcare-associated infections in all healthcare facilities.

Standards and regulations have been developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Association for Healthcare Environment encouraging hospitals to implement ES cleaning programs and total facility cleaning standards to clean and disinfect all high-touch surfaces.  

Despite such recommendations, however, I've observed that some U.S. hospitals and long-term care facilities consider cleaning as healthcare’s lowest-tech activity, which is carried out by a group of invisible workers on the bottom rung of the hospital ladder. I've also seen that some hospitals have found environmental services as an easy means of budget-cutting, which often leaves ES staff with only enough time to perform what I call a "trash-n-dash" — they are able to empty the wastebasket, check the bathroom and maybe mop the floor, with little time for anything else.

I founded my company 12 years ago with a commitment to developing and proving the concept for a new line of high-performance textiles in support of infection prevention programs for the healthcare and hospitality markets. During that time, I've seen that in the best healthcare settings, C-suites are beginning to grasp the difference a highly trained ES staff member can make, not only in the lives of patients but also in the facility’s reputation, goodwill and financial health. Here are a few ways you can get started:

Provide proper training to your ES staff.

Though mostly preventable, pHAIs, such as CDI and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections, can — and do — occur in all types of patient and extended-care facilities. There is no doubt that keeping the patient care environment clean is a critical component in combating pHAIs. I've observed a growing number of healthcare facilities are adopting programs that elevate the role the cleaning and disinfecting process plays in public health and safety, with a particular focus on infection prevention. In the midst of all this, ES staff is on the frontlines in the fight to battle the scourge of pHAIs.

So, how do ES staff training and recognition programs help optimize infection prevention? Training programs recognize the science of cleaning and disinfecting that ES performs, both the clinical function of removing and inactivating HAI-producing microbes and the practical function of cleaning.

From my perspective, ES staff training should include:

• Proper use of high-performance textile products.

• Color-coded, one-per-room protocols to simplify training, help reduce chemical usage and offer a straightforward way to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination.

• Improved cleaning thoroughness and enhanced cleaning methods of high-touch surfaces.

• Pre-first procedure processing, between-procedure processing, 24-hour idle processing and terminal processing for ES staff cleaning operating rooms.

Recognize their value.

More and more, I've seen that healthcare management is acknowledging and rewarding ES staff who have undergone extensive in-service training in which they learn best practices for infection prevention and hygiene management in the patient room, in the operating room and throughout the healthcare facility.

Such training and recognition can serve as a significant employee morale boost. Once ES staff complete the training, recognize them via a senior management-attended event that includes a certificate, pin or other designation, and celebrate their accomplishments and role. Some healthcare providers are even starting to bonus staff who complete the training, which provides further incentives to the rest of your staff.

Hospitals that have incorporated training and recognition into their multimodal intervention strategies have recorded significant results. One Kentucky hospital noted a reduction in pHAIs after providing its ES staff with training. Likewise, a 2012 study by my company of a Chicago-area hospital found that the facility was able to decrease its CDI rates by more than 50% – well below the national average at the time – and significantly improve its ranking for patient satisfaction with room cleanliness.

There are a few do's and don’ts to managing an ES workforce.

ES staff serves as the first line of defense in ensuring safe patient environments in hospitals and long-term care facilities, thereby helping protect the broader community. I believe those who recognize this by investing in these unsung heroes will improve patient outcomes, boost financial health, increase satisfaction rankings and support the community at large. Some key points to keep in mind:

• Do invest in proper training of ES staff.

• Do secure senior management’s participation in ES staff recognition.

• Don’t skimp on high-performance products for cleaning and infection prevention.

• Do consider providing bonuses to ES staff who complete training.

• Don’t forget to engage with and recognize ES staff for their critical role in infection prevention.

The unheralded ES professional is critical in the battle against antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The next time you’re in a healthcare facility, take a moment to recognize those who are keeping the environment safe via proper cleaning and disinfection processes. They are as important as doctors and nurses in maintaining your and your family’s health and safety.