Keeping It Clean
- April 02, 2020
Check out the news these days and you can’t miss it: the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media feeds, televisions and even newspapers highlight stories of nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals battling this modern day scourge at the frontlines, doing all they can to heal infected patients with limited resources.
But few news stories focus on some of the most integral healthcare workers behind the scenes: the housekeepers and laundry aides.
One of the best ways to prevent infection anywhere – including a hospital – is proper sanitation and disinfection. The housekeeping and laundry teams at Brookings Health System always take pride in the cleanliness of the facilities – they are often noted with high marks on patient surveys – but with the threat of COVID-19, the teams’ important role at Brookings Hospital is even more critical.
The COVID-19 virus is easily killed by a combination of disinfectant or soap and water plus good old fashioned elbow grease. At Brookings Health, the housekeeping team uses medical-grade disinfectant products that kill germs within one to three minutes after application. The challenge: keeping high-touch public areas like door handles and counters clean.
“Since the COVID-19 threat started, we find ourselves going through high-touch, public surface areas over and over again several times a shift,” said Deborah Wingle, housekeeping lead at Brookings Hospital. “We wipe down restrooms, elevators, conference rooms, entrances – any place where people frequent. And even though we’re closed to visitors, we still need to keep those areas as clean as possible for our patients who need care, like OB moms or people with broken bones, to keep them as safe as possible.”
The housekeeping team is increasing disinfection measures in others ways, too.
“We have cleaning standards to follow for droplet precaution, the transmission-based precaution level the CDC mandates for respiratory infections,” says Wingle. “We follow these for any patient who is hospitalized with a respiratory illness such as pneumonia. Our team will follow these same guidelines if we have any patients hospitalized with COVID-19.”
In droplet precaution protocol, the hospital isolates a patient with respiratory symptoms. Anyone who enters the patient room must wear proper personal protective equipment, including gloves, goggles, masks, and gowns, and take them off immediately after exiting the room. They must also wash their hands both before and after entering the room. This not only protects the person entering the room, but also prevents transmission of the illness to other areas of the hospital. Housekeepers are just one of the hospital team members that follow these precautions.
“When we assign someone to disinfect a patient’s room that has precautions, we do not allow that housekeeper to clean another area of the hospital that is free from the illness, such as the operating rooms or OB,” said Wingle. “We don’t risk the chance, although small, that our housekeeper would carry the infection with them to another area.”
Inside the infectious patient’s room, the housekeeper wipes down everything that surrounds the patient or that the patient could touch using their medical-grade cleaning agents with the quick kill time. In addition, they double-bag trash and place it in a biohazard bag to prevent contamination.
After a patient is discharged, housekeeping strips and thoroughly disinfects the patient room, including the bed, walls and bathroom. The team removes all linens – including cubicle curtains, shower curtains and mesh –to be laundered. To prevent contamination during transit to laundry, the linens are double-bagged and marked “droplet,” signaling to the laundry team they need to follow the CDC’s droplet precautions, too, when washing.
“When we get those bags, we use the same precautions as everyone else, wearing gowns, gloves, masks and goggles, to protect ourselves,” said Laundry Supervisor Stacy Clark. “We have our laundry area setup to flow with soiled linen in one room and washed, clean linen in another. We also use separate carts so that contamination from the dirty linens can’t carry over to clean linens.”
In addition, the laundry team follows regulations from the South Dakota Department of Health, adding the required disinfecting chemicals in every load of laundry washed. Water temperature and heat temperature for the dryers also follow department of health guidelines to ensure any infectious agents on the linens are killed during the cleaning process.
“After we’ve washed the precaution laundry, we thoroughly sanitize our area just to make sure the contaminants are gone,” says Clark.
All the measures for housekeepers and laundry personnel alike ensure Brookings Hospital maintains infection control integrity.
“Just because something isn’t visually soiled doesn’t mean germs aren’t there,” Clark adds. “Our thorough cleaning kills germs and protects our patients.”
And keeping patients safe at Brookings Hospital is priority number one.
To learn more about how Brookings Health System is protecting patients and residents during the threat of COVID-19, please visit brookingshealth.org/COVID.
About Brookings Health System
Brookings Health System, located in Brookings, South Dakota, includes a 49-bed hospital, the 79-bed The Neighborhoods at Brookview nursing home, Brookhaven Estates senior living apartments, Yorkshire Eye Clinic & Optical, and medical clinics in Arlington, White and Volga, South Dakota. It is a non-profit, city-owned facility that offers the community a full range of inpatient, outpatient, emergency and extended care services. Brookings Hospital provides local access to doctors in Brookings and offers robotic da Vinci surgery and Mako robotic-arm assisted procedures, making it one of the premier rural community hospitals in South Dakota. For more information about the services offered at Brookings Health System, please call (605) 696-9000 or visit us on the Web at brookingshealth.org.