Pathogen Eradication From an Environmental Services Perspective
By Thomas J. Fitzgerald III, CHESP
Globally, sick people usually end up in some type of healthcare setting to receive care for their illness; their treatment plans usually entail an inpatient stay, maybe surgery, a medication regimen, and follow-up care. One important step that is usually taken for granted is the Environmental Services (ES) role in the healing process. The ES department is usually responsible for cleaning all surfaces and textiles throughout the healthcare system; both can serve as an infection-transmission host if not addressed properly in regard to cleaning and linen processing.
Surface contamination by fomites is prevalent in any healthcare system due to numerous sick individuals seeking medical care who pass through our doors on a daily basis. It is paramount to the organization, patients, staff members, and visitors that ES department personnel and clinical staff be just as passionate and dedicated to keeping the healthcare-acquired infection (HAI) rate down and the positive patient outcomes high. This is usually the case, but it sometimes goes unrecognized or appreciated by the other clinical team members.
Many times, ES personnel requests assistance from clinical staff to have access to occupied rooms for the purpose of terminal cleaning on a monthly basis, only to be told that this will disrupt patient care. This response untrue, because if this important task is not completed properly, we can compromise the patients treatment plan and health due to a unhealthy environment. Remember, a surgeons work is for naught if his or her work environment is not properly processed by a trained and dedicated ES team member.
Proper housekeeping in a healthcare setting and the requirement for a clean, pest-free, and aesthetically pleasing environment is nonnegotiable. ES leadership must be steadfast in its approach to securing support of this very important requirement from the C suite and all other organizational staff.
The organizational atmosphere must be one of equal importance and value to all staff members; this shows a commitment to the role that each individual plays in the healing process. Many organizations relate importance to salary or educational degrees; this is a poor way to manage and often causes a breakdown in teamwork and unity. It takes all staff members in a healthcare system to prevent infection and heal a patient fully.
Senior management at the facility must support and embrace all aspects of the team approach to infection control across all organizational lines; there cannot be a disconnect with this approach.
I would like to ask every healthcare system to embrace and support your ES department as a true infection control champion, and remember, a surgeon cannot cut if the environment is not clean, and that cleaning is non-negotiable.
Thomas J. Fitzgerald III, CHESP, is chief of environmental management service at VA Palo Alto Healthcare system and is president of the American Society of Healthcare Environmental Services.