By John Goetz, Global Product Manager, Hydro Systems
Editor Note: This is Part 2 of a four part series exploring the laundering of linens in healthcare and hospitality facilities. Topics to be explored include, meeting and exceeding guest and patient linen standards, linen stains and their origins in hospitality environments, exceeding laundry healthcare standards, the benefits of a laundry dispenser, how to find the right dispenser for your facility and maintaining hygiene expectations and standards.
Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) are infections that patients contract while receiving medical treatment, and affect hundreds of millions of people globally. According to the World Health Organization, of every 100 hospitalized patients at any given time, 7 in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire at least one HAI. Because of the extended stays and treatment that HAIs require, they create a significant burden on patients and the healthcare system. Annual direct costs related to HAIs and the 16 million extra days of hospital stay that they cause are estimated at $6.5 billion in the U.S. and €7 billion in Europe.
Unfortunately, HAIs can be caused by numerous factors, including poor environmental and personal hygiene, overcrowding, understaffing and lack of training. Even different types of linen used by patients and employees can carry microscopic risks that can result in HAIs. A recent study published in the Journal of Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology found that inadequate laundering processes may only reduce C. difficile spore counts by as little as 40 percent, below the microbiological standards for containing disease-causing bacteria.
It’s imperative that managers are aware of the different types of linen used within a healthcare facility and how to meet and exceed laundry standards. These items include:
- Bed linen and pads: Most patients in healthcare facilities spend most of their time in a bed. Sheets, blankets, bed covers and mattress pads must be regularly washed to ensure they won’t re-infect a patient or infect the next patient who will use the bed.
- Gowns: Patient gowns can also spread germs to other people or surfaces if they are not properly laundered. Whether a facility relies on an OPL or an outsourced provider, it’s important to ensure that there are separate areas and physical barriers in storage areas and laundry facilities for clean and soiled linens to reduce the risk of cross contamination. These gowns should also never be washed with non-medical garments.
- Scrubs: According to The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 health care organizations and programs in the U.S., when surgical scrubs and attire are visibly contaminated, the employer is responsible for laundering per Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards.If the clothing is not visibly contaminated, it may be laundered at home but the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) strongly recommends that a healthcare-accredited laundry facility manages the cleaning.
- Privacy curtains: Privacy curtains are the latest item to cause a stir around cleanliness, with new research highlighting just how dirty these room dividers can be. Privacy curtains can become breeding grounds for resistant bacteria, posing a threat to patient safety, say Shek, et al. (2018) who conducted a pilot study to track the contamination rate of 10 freshly laundered privacy curtains in a Canadian hospital. While the curtains had minimal contamination when they were hung, those located in patient rooms became increasingly contaminated over time. By day 14, 87.5 percent of the curtains tested positive for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus(MRSA), a dangerous form of bacteria resistant to many antibiotics. 
For healthcare facilities that outsource the laundering of these essential items, accreditation is an important consideration. No state requires hospitals to use accredited laundries. However, it’s important to note that laundries that have been accredited by the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) take extra steps to meet comprehensive standards for safe linen handling. There are currently more than 160 accredited laundry facilities in the U.S. and Canada according to HLAC’s public records. With patient health and safety at stake, taking these extra precautions is advised.
Read Part One of Hospitality and Healthcare Linen Operation Insights here
About the author:
Hydro Systems is an independent manufacturer of chemical injecting, proportioning, dispensing and medicating equipment. Goetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.