With news that Clostridium difficile infections are at historic highs in U.S. hospitals, a developer of infection prevention systems is again urging healthcare facility administrators to heed the alarm and rethink the role of Environmental Services (ES) in the quality control equation
"If you're cutting ES staff to hold down costs, you're losing the battle where it matters most on the front lines," says George Clarke, CEO of UMF Corporation. "ES is the first line of defense in the battle against healthcare-associated infections (HAIs)."
Clarke's comments come in the wake of a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that says rates of infections and death from C. difficile a bacteria that can cause severe diarrhea, inflammation and bleeding in the colon, and death have climbed to historic highs and that the threat is a patient safety concern in all types of medical facilities.
"The alarms continue to sound, but are they falling on deaf ears?" Clarke adds.
Late last year, in an ad-hoc survey of ES managers across the United States, UMF Corporation found that many hospitals are taking steps to reduce the number of full time ES staff in efforts to cut costs as healthcare expenses escalate.
Of the survey, Clarke said at the time, "ES managers polled indicated that their departments were, on average, short by 5 to 9 full time people. This is happening in spite of hospital expansions, expanded services, increased patient admissions and shorter lengths of stay, which create more room turnover."
Clarke says these cuts and/or hiring freezes in ES staff combined with the addition of new buildings create a "trash and dash" culture that has little to do with hygiene. This means an ES housekeeper is responsible for so many rooms each day that he or she literally only has time to empty the trash.
"It's my hope that this latest news from the CDC will influence healthcare facility administrators to rethink the role of ES in the quality control equation," Clarke says. "Now is not the time to be reducing ES staff. They should be included as part of a larger collaborative effort that includes infection prevention and quality control."
C. difficile is linked to more than 14,000 U.S. deaths each year, according to the CDC. The infections just in hospitals add an extra $1 billion a year in health system costs. While C. difficile has long been thought to be a hospital problem, the new CDC report suggests patients can be exposed to C. difficile in many healthcare settings, including nursing homes and outpatient clinics.
UMF Corporation designs, engineers and manufactures high-performance fibers and accessories to help its customers meet tough new challenges in public health and safety. UMF Corporation is the annual sponsor of the Hygiene Specialist Excellence award to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of ES personnel.