Properly Laundered Uniforms Can Help Prevent HAIs, Reduce Costs

The Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID) says healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) cause more than $30 billion a year in needless healthcare industry overhead which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), conservatively reflects 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths annually.

Since many infections can be traced to contaminated apparel, RID notes that unwanted costs can be mitigated by providing healthcare providers with hygienically laundered uniforms, versus requiring them to purchase, launder and maintain their own healthcare apparel.

Infectious bacteria routinely hitchhike on the lab coats and scrubs of medical personnel who interact with patients, explains Charles P. Gerba, PhD, an environmental microbiology expert at the University of Arizona. He says for many hours "those bacteria can still be alive and passed on through incidental contact with other patients." And, according to a University of Maryland study, 65 percent of hospital personnel only change their lab coats weekly and 15 percent monthly.

"Medical staffs have demanding schedules and doing their laundry in a hygienic manner may be difficult for them," says Adam Soreff of UniFirst, a supplier of uniforms and work apparel programs to businesses throughout the U.S. and Canada. "That's why specialized uniform rental services make sense."

Such services use self-sanitizing, EPA-approved wash formulas and handling procedures developed for healthcare workers that are designed to produce a longer-lasting, sanitized cleanliness that can't be achieved with home laundering. Pick-ups, deliveries, automatic repairs and replacements are part of the service which, Soreff says, "costs less than a daily cup of coffee per wearer." In contrast, RID notes the average cost to cure just one infection is $15,275 -- a figure that translates into more than 7,000 changes of rental lab coats or scrubs.

Betsy McCaughey, RID's chairman, says it's well past the time for hospitals to provide laundered uniforms for their staffs -- particularly since hospital-acquired infections kill more people annually in the U.S. than AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.