Infection control needs relationship between clinicians and environmental services

By Karen Hill-Whitson / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
January 28, 2014


In order to tackle the spread of infectious disease in healthcare facilities everyone must be on the same page. That includes hospital staff, doctors, nurses, interns with privileges, patients and visitors. All need to be educated and all need to be following the policies and practices set by the institution. Having said that, there are two specific groups within that list who have been pooling their resources and knowledge and teaming up in greater effort to conquer the on-going battle of infection control.

Who are they, you ask? They are the infection control team and the environmental services/housekeeping team. Rather than working independently to assist in ensuring their facility is clean and the risk of cross-contamination is greatly reduced and hospital acquired infections are minimized, they have recognized the importance of sharing their expertise for the benefit of all. Where there were once Silos, there is now on-going conversation and continual improvements.

Education is, of course, still key but sharing of data and indicators and having meetings as required so that both parties are privy to important information has proven successful. Aligning forces so that all the onus of infection prevention and control does not fall solely in the hands of a few – the infection control team seems to be working where facilities have established this model. 

The environmental services team not only can assist by proactively following the policies when it comes to cleaning, since they are in every nook and cranny of the hospital on a daily basis, they can advocate, educate and act as a bit of a “watchdog” for the infection control team. Not to say that they should become “whistle blowers”, but again since they clean every square inch of the hospital they have eyes on what is happening in all areas. They can advise the infection control team where more education and perhaps more frequent auditing needs to occur.

It should be everyone’s goal to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and therefore those reminding, educating and advocating should not be thought of as the “infection control police”. Their task is an important and often difficult one. The more departments that team up with them, the better outcomes we will see.

Having infection control and housekeeping “at the table” frequently allows for conversations and understanding by both parties. Rational is better understood by the housekeeping team, efficacy of disinfectants and processes in cleaning is better understood by the infection control team. 

The sharing of information allows them to give and gain advice. Tracking and trending statistics also plays a key factor, especially when it comes to an “outbreak” situation. Housekeeping departments have learned over the last couple of years that just auditing cleanliness from a visual perspective is not enough. Other auditing such as environmental swabbing or the use of black lights has become necessary to ensure whether a surface or key contact point is truly “clean” which means free of bacteria. This cannot be determined with the naked eye. 

This type of auditing can become the hospitals due diligence defense. Tracking and trending such important information allows everyone to learn where problem areas lie and if there are repeat occurrences. Then further education or changes to procedure can ensue.

Having both teams collaborate had also reduced the culture of the “blame game” which can often occur when dealing with the topic of infection prevention and control. Avoiding such a pitfall allows for stronger and vital relationships to be built. With the enhanced spirit of collaboration between environmental services and infection control comes brainstorming and often great ideas. As the saying goes… “Two heads are better than one”.

So if your infection control team and your environmental services/housekeeping team haven’t already begun collaborating, now is the time. Start the conversation today.

 Hill-Whitson, is the president of Breeze Software.

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