As the Omicron variant spread at a breakneck pace, a record number of Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 in January 2022. In response to this latest challenge, the environmental services (EVS) teams that clean and disinfect healthcare facilities are again spotlighted because of the pivotal role they play in keeping critical medical spaces operational and safe.
After battling COVID-19 for two years, EVS managers have gained extensive experience and data about ways to use the most advanced products and technology available. Just as importantly, they have learned the best ways to manage a workforce of frontline essential employees.
As a result, a three-pronged approach has proven effective in limiting Omicron’s spread.
Expanding disinfection technology
Because Omicron is more contagious than other variants, we are cleaning more frequently and expanding the area we cover. While patient and clinical areas are always our top priorities, we also focus on high-touch public spaces, such as waiting areas, lobbies, elevators, public restrooms, and cafeterias.
Where possible, we use the most proven technology to maximize cleanliness. At several New York City hospitals, for example, our technicians use devices that emit ultraviolet (UV) light technology to clean rooms once a patient has been discharged, rapidly eliminating the spread of deadly pathogens.
In public spaces with high traffic, air-purification systems reduce the spread of potential illness from coughs and sneezes. Hospitals using this technology, which draws in the air and processes it through a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter and UV light, report significant reductions in airborne pathogens.
To measure the cleanliness of surfaces, products that detect adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and begin disinfecting in a matter of seconds provide EVS departments with an affordable, easy-to-use method to verify a surface’s cleanliness.
EVS teams are also servicing thousands of ambulatory sites using the same standardized cleaning processes as in acute care hospitals. For example, before COVID-19, a clinician was responsible for wiping tables after a patient exam. Now, each room must be thoroughly cleaned by a trained cleaning professional between patient visits, while triage and waiting rooms are also cleaned regularly.
At MedStar Health, which provides ambulatory care in hundreds of buildings in the Baltimore-Washington area, Crothall Healthcare’s ambulatory EVS team designed a cost-effective, comprehensive cleaning program. The equivalent of 20 new full-time day housekeepers were hired to continuously clean the 120 facilities, working from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day before a night crew arrives. If a healthcare worker or patient tests positive for COVID-19, a SWAT team of Crothall associates is deployed to the site to perform terminal cleaning to prevent infection spread.
To clean as much space as often as possible, EVS departments are redirecting their staffs to address matters of the highest priority. In some cases, that means redeploying staff to the areas of greatest need, such as COVID-19 testing areas, intensive care units, and emergency departments.
This has necessitated the use of unique technology to achieve more efficiencies. One such technology is software that helps EVS departments better manage their workforces compared to earlier in the pandemic.
Such software allows departments to move quickly to respond to any need. Armed with iPads, EVS frontline associates who clean patient rooms can report in real time their progress to supervisors. These results allow supervisors to manage entire teams from any point on the floor. With the ability to react to any emerging need, supervisors can quickly redistribute work to maximize productivity.
The results have been encouraging. At the University of Virginia Medical Center, software has reduced room cleaning time by 25-30 percent, since fewer workers are needed. The savings from the increased efficiency have been used to buy more UV light cleaning technology, which in turn, reduces healthcare-associated infections.
MedStar Harbor Hospital in Baltimore also has seen positive results. When employees can complete their tasks sooner than expected, managers can identify this efficiency and redistribute the work by moving the employees to other locations.
The rapid spread of Omicron has made it more important than ever to have strong workforce management protocols in place, and the software has proven to be an immensely successful solution to manage valuable frontline employees.
We are testing new products and technologies that could be game changers in the foreseeable future when it comes to disinfection levels and pathogen reduction in healthcare facilities.
One technology captures high-resolution images of contaminated surfaces that other products might miss, allowing EVS workers to better detect pathogens and, as a result, more effectively mitigate their spread. Three hospitals soon will test the technology in high-risk patient units and sterilized areas.
In conjunction with Monument Health, we recently deployed a new solution that produces cleaner air by introducing ions into spaces via the airflow in a hospital’s ventilation system. Already in use on private and commercial aircraft, this technology delivers indoor air that is free of ozone and other harmful byproducts by reducing airborne particulates, odors, and pathogens throughout the hospital.
All of us hope Omicron will peak soon and people can return to a more normal way of life. Regardless of whether we find ourselves in the peak of another variant surge or in the calm after the storm, EVS departments will continue to work hand in hand with the nation’s largest hospitals to invest in advanced technology, test new cleaning products and technology for the next battle, and continue to ensure patient and workplace safety within all healthcare facilities.
Rich Feczko is director of systems, standards, innovation and global support at Crothall Healthcare in Wayne, Pennsylvania.