COVID-19 is having an enormous impact on every aspect of life and will have important short- and long-term impacts on both healthcare and the cleaning industry.
This article addresses how Green Cleaning practices and products will evolve and co-exist with health care facilities in the COVID world. From supply and staff shortages to emphasizing worker health and training to accelerating innovation – the healthcare industry continues to advance its efforts on Green Cleaning and its mission to “do no harm” while also effectively addressing COVID-19 and other harmful organisms.
People Are Paying Attention To Cleaning: Perhaps the biggest impact on cleaning is the simply fact that everyone including medical and other staff members, patients, family members and the public are all paying more attention to cleaning than ever before.
This is truly a “teachable moment” for both institutions and individuals to consider in their own homes and daily lives will not be forgotten. Hopefully the understanding of the direct connection between cleaning and health will continue long after COVID-19 has been addressed, as well as their power as a purchaser to choose products and processes that reduce negative impacts on health and the environment compared to other products used for the same purpose. Every healthcare facility and household consumer should be a Green consumer.
Supply Shortages. As a result of the increased hospitalization rates and heightened awareness of, and concerns for cleaning and disinfecting due to COVID-19; disinfectants and other cleaning products, along with cleaning tools and equipment are in exceptionally high demand. For example, in some parts of the country, the demand for disinfectants is 400 to 500 percent higher compared to that of pre-COVID-19 demand.
To ensure adequate supplies, purchasers have been forced to be more nimble to ensure that critical supplies such as hospital grade disinfectants are always available. For example, many healthcare systems are approving numerous disinfecting products from US Environmental Protection Agency’s List N and negotiating preferred commitments from their vendors to be “first in line” for all essential products. In addition, infection control and environmental services departments are rethinking what actually needs to be disinfected in order to use these products only where and when necessary.
In the post-COVID world, it is not anticipated that supply shortages will continue, but the relationships with vendors and use of multiple options will be a strategy going forward; as well as the need to continually assessment where and when disinfectants will be used.
Staffing Shortages: Due to the challenges facing environmental services departments resulting from increased demands on services, stress and risks to worker health; many healthcare facilities are dealing with staffing shortages in the environmental services departments.
While hiring and retaining environmental services workers has always been challenging, COVID-19 has made the situation even more so. Healthcare facilities are using Green products to reduce the risk of harm to environmental services workers from avoidable respiratory and other health exposures. Reducing the risk of harm to the workers can also reduce missed work days and other issues that can keep environmental service workers out of work.
Regrettably, it is anticipated that staffing and training of environmental services workers will continue to be challenging in the post-COVID world.
Green Cleaning and Disinfecting: Health care has done a good job adopting Green Cleaning practices by purchasing products and using practices that reduce health and environmental impacts compared to similar products and practices used for the same purpose.
The biggest challenges for many healthcare systems are directly affected to their supply chain as cleaning and disinfecting cannot stop because the desired products are not available. This at times results in “backsliding” in their Green programs as they use whatever is available, combined with a misguided notion that stronger and more aggressive cleaners and disinfectants should be used against COVID-19.
While Green hospital grade disinfectants and hand-hygiene products may be in short supply; other chemicals, sanitary paper products (e.g. toilet tissue and paper hand towels), plastic can liners, powered equipment (e.g. vacuum cleaners, pressure washers and chemical applicators), tools (e.g. mops, buckets and carts) all continue to provide opportunities for Greening.
To make these purchasing issues easier, many healthcare facilities are using the new pilot credit developed by the US Green Building Council (LEED Safety First: Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space) to provide a comprehensive “roadmap” to Green Cleaning.
While the supply of Green and traditional cleaning products is currently being addressed, this should not be a problem in the post-COVID world.
Innovation: As a result of all the challenges, the demand for cleaning has never been higher and the manufacturers and suppliers of cleaning products have stepped-up their stream of innovative new products.
For example, Green Seal has recently certified innovative floor mops and floor pads containing a large amount of post-consumer recycled content. Other areas of innovation include the increased use of robots to clean large open areas to free-up human resources for more detailed and challenging cleaning activities; use of UVC light for disinfecting in patient rooms and other areas that reduce or even eliminate chemical disinfectants, the adoption of on-site generators for cleaning chemicals especially for use in non-critical care areas that significantly reduce environmental impacts compared to traditional cleaning chemicals, new surface testing protocols to expand and accelerate testing to confirm that cleanliness and safety has been achieved, and connected devices to inform environmental services departments that restrooms need restocking or cleaning based on actual occupant usage information in an effort to use resources more efficiently.
These and other innovations are anticipated to continue and even accelerate in the post-COVID world.
Steve Ashkin is the President of The Ashkin Group, Executive Director of the Green Cleaning Network, co-founder of Green Cleaning University and CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, LLC.