COVID-19 Brings Changes for Hospital Cleaning Companies
Hospital cleaning company technicians have always been vital to patient health and welfare. Still, it wasn’t until the dawn of COVID-19 that they became more widely recognized as significant workers on the infection-prevention frontline. Finally, the world realizes what healthcare cleaning services have known all along: Cleaning must be for health, not appearance.
Historically, the role of hospital cleaning companies—also called hospital environmental services—has remained much the same. They have always been responsible for infection-prevention within the hospital setting. When COVID-19 first hit, many thought nothing would be too different and that guidelines for specific outbreaks, such as OSHA’s Pandemic Preparedness Plan for influenza (flu), would see them through. However, it soon became apparent that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was like no other. So while their responsibilities of providing clean, healthy environments have not changed, hospital cleaning services have had to adjust many of their processes and protocols.
Some Hospital Cleaning Company Duties Remain the Same
Before looking at procedures the COVID-19 outbreak has altered for hospital cleaning companies, it is vital to note one thing that did not—and should not—change, i.e., the need to clean before all else. Without cleaning, which removes 90% of organic matter, disinfectants can’t do their job. Further, in many seldom-used areas with no exposure to COVID-19, disinfecting can be overkill, introducing potentially harmful chemicals into the environment unnecessarily.
What COVID-19 Has Changed
Below are some of the processes that hospital cleaning services need to be doing differently due to COVID-19.
Personal protective equipment (PPE). Before COVID-19, most hospital cleaning technicians wore gloves to perform their duties. OSHA has long required any technician handling sharps or cleaning surfaces contaminated by biobased hazardous substances, such as blood, sputum, or diarrhea, to wear gloves. Since the dawn of COVID, many situations call for fitted masks or face shields and gowns. Full PPE, including foot coverings and full-frontal coverings, is mandated for those cleaning surfaces with confirmed or probable COVID contamination. Proper PPE protocols for use, including appropriate donning and removal, must be strictly followed to protect the worker and prevent cross-contamination.
Wait times. Healthcare EVS technicians spend more time waiting than they did before the pandemic. Cleaning technicians are an integral part of a hospital’s throughput, or bed turnover, rates. The faster they can clean a room after the patient is discharged without sacrificing quality, the sooner a new patient can be safely moved in. However, environmental service technicians often must wait before entering a room that was occupied by a COVID-19 patient. Once they have cleaned the room, which also requires more time than for one that was occupied by a non-COVID patient (see Terminal cleaning below), and applied disinfectant, they must wait again. This delay is to ensure the proper dwell time as stipulated by the formula’s manufacturer, usually between 3 and 10 minutes. Without this dwell time, a surface is not disinfected.
Specific disinfectants. The EPA must approve all disinfectants used in the United States, and no one disinfectant is effective against all pathogens. Only disinfectants on the EPA List N have been approved by the agency to kill SARS-CoV-2. Healthcare cleaning services must use one of these formulas to combat the spread of COVID-19.
High-touch points. Cleaning technicians have always focused on surfaces touched most frequently by multiple people, such as door handles and light switches. However, the attention to these high-touch spots has been ramped up several notches since COVID-19 entered the picture. The CDC recommends hospital cleaning personnel observe the traffic flow to identify the high-touch points in a specific healthcare facility and disinfect these surfaces a minimum of every 24 hours.
Terminal cleaning. While all patient rooms require cleaning and disinfecting, areas where there have been confirmed cases of COVID need terminal cleaning, i.e., intense disinfecting procedures. This includes moving every detachable item in the room to disinfect them and disinfecting light fixtures, air ducts, and all surfaces starting from the ceiling down to the floor.
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