By Thomas J. Fitzgerald III, CHESP
Globally, sick people usually end up insome type of healthcare setting to receive care for their illness; theirtreatment plans usually entail an inpatient stay, maybe surgery, a medicationregimen, and follow-up care. One important step that is usually taken forgranted is the Environmental Services (ES) role in the healing process. The ESdepartment is usually responsible for cleaning all surfaces and textilesthroughout the healthcare system; both can serve as an infection-transmissionhost if not addressed properly in regard to cleaning and linen processing.
Surface contamination by fomites is prevalent in anyhealthcare system due to numerous sick individuals seeking medical care who passthrough our doors on a daily basis. It is paramount to the organization,patients, staff members, and visitors that ES department personnel and clinicalstaff be just as passionate and dedicated to keeping the healthcare-acquiredinfection (HAI) rate down and the positive patient outcomes high. This isusually the case, but it sometimes goes unrecognized or appreciated by the otherclinical team members.
Many times, ES personnel requests assistance from clinicalstaff to have access to occupied rooms for the purpose of terminal cleaning on amonthly basis, only to be told that this will disrupt patient care. Thisresponse untrue, because if this important task is not completed properly, wecan compromise the patients treatment plan and health due to a unhealthyenvironment. Remember, a surgeons work is for naught if his or her workenvironment is not properly processed by a trained and dedicated ES team member.
Proper housekeeping in a healthcare setting and therequirement for a clean, pest-free, and aesthetically pleasing environment isnonnegotiable. ES leadership must be steadfast in its approach to securingsupport of this very important requirement from the C suite and all otherorganizational staff.
The organizational atmosphere must be one of equal importanceand value to all staff members; this shows a commitment to the role that eachindividual plays in the healing process. Many organizations relate importance tosalary or educational degrees; this is a poor way to manage and often causes abreakdown in teamwork and unity. It takes all staff members in a healthcaresystem to prevent infection and heal a patient fully.
Senior management at the facility must support and embrace allaspects of the team approach to infection control across all organizationallines; there cannot be a disconnect with this approach.
I would like to ask every healthcare system to embrace andsupport your ES department as a true infection control champion, and remember, asurgeon cannot cut if the environment is not clean, and that cleaning isnon-negotiable.
Thomas J. Fitzgerald III, CHESP, ischief of environmental management service at VA Palo Alto Healthcare system andis president of the American Society of Healthcare Environmental Services.