Because of the challenge of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), medical facilities should have an infection prevention plan in place. One area often overlooked in a complete infection protection plan is the healthcare linen and laundry service.
Here are three questions you should ask yourself when determining whether your linen is considered in your infection prevention plan:
- Are you receiving “sanitized” or “hygienically clean” laundry service?
The goal of laundering for healthcare settings is to eliminate bacteria – and simply washing linens, blankets and contaminated scrubs is not enough.
When it comes to your patients and your staff, having sanitized linens and scrubs is a must for combating potentially harmful pathogens. Some laundry services employ processes that claim hygienically clean linens. But there is a lack of standardization with the term “hygienically clean,” making it somewhat ambiguous in the healthcare field.
It’s important to seek a service that is committed to best practice standards of sanitizing. The EPA sets a clear, concise and measureable definition for what constitutes “sanitized:” it means that a 99.9% reduction in bacteria. Steer clear of those that promise to wash your scrubs based on vague guidelines. Be sure to ask for documentation, check for industry certifications and become familiar with the process.
Once your linens are delivered, inspect them for proper packaging protocol, as exposure to airborne pathogens is a major cause of HAIs.
- Do you have effective inventory management practices in place?
Ineffective inventory management has bigger repercussions than just the possibility of linen shortages: There is a huge health factor involved. Consider this: when inventory levels are inconsistent, some doctors and nurses take their scrubs and other garments home to be washed and then wear them back to work – which is ineffective at removing potentially dangerous bacteria. If staff apparel is not professionally cleaned and sanitized, they are at high risk of causing further contamination.
Work with a laundry partner that takes inventory management seriously. When your scrubs and other medical linens are always in stock in the proper sizes, your staff members consistently have the appropriate garments on hand, eliminating the need for them to wash items at home.
- Are your linens, gowns and garments stored in a safe place?
Even when your entire facility undergoes rigorous cleaning and sanitizing at the end of the day, there’s still the possibility of airborne pathogens striking exposed surfaces. Airborne pathogens are just as destructive as those that spread through direct contact. Are your linens protected? Do your gowns and robes remain individually packaged until ready for use?
To prevent any permeation of bacteria among your freshly washed linens, follow these steps:
- Any linens kept in a linen cart must always be covered or kept in a separate closet altogether, away from soiled linen.
- Linen should be wrapped in plastic to shield freshly washed supplies from airborne pathogens. Ideally, patient gowns should be individually wrapped.
If your medical facility doesn’t identify and enforce a strict code of best practices regarding medical linens, involve proper inventory management techniques and provide protection from airborne pathogens, your infection plan is not comprehensive enough.