As a member of the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council (HLAC) board of directors representing AHE, I have benefited from being educated to the 2011 HLAC Accreditation Standards for Processing Reusable Textiles for Use in Healthcare Facilities. I believe that adherence to the HLAC standards is the one sure way to provide health care with textiles that are the safest available.
Following the HLAC standards also ensures that textiles used by environmental services (ES) will not introduce contaminated textiles into the patient care environment and will reduce the possibility of recontamination of surfaces. This is particularly important for ES departments that continue to use cotton wipers and mops.
Every ES director, manager and infection preventionist should make it a point to visit his or her laundry processing plant, whether contractor-operated or on premises. They should walk away impressed with the professionalism of every employee and the cleanliness of every facility. If not, investigation is essential.
The tasks of a contract laundry plant, as well as those of on-premises laundries, are enormous and the responsibilities for ensuring that patients and staff have textiles that are hygienically clean is absolutely essential. To quote from the HLAC standards' definition of hygienically clean: "A clean state, free of pathogens in sufficient numbers to minimize risk of infection. Hygienically clean laundry carries negligible risk to health care workers and patients, provided that the clean textiles are not inadvertently contaminated before use."
Being "not inadvertently contaminated before use" is an area in which there is great confusion among ES and nursing staff. The HLAC standards ensure that textiles that are delivered by an accredited facility will arrive hygienically clean. But it is incumbent upon each facility to ensure that they remain clean once they are delivered to the facility. Each hospital must have a policy and procedure dealing with the transportation and storage of clean textiles as well as for addressing the transportation and storage of contaminated textiles.
Simply put, once textiles are removed from a clean-linen cart or storage room and taken into a patient room, they are considered contaminated. Here are some suggestions:
• Never carry clean or soiled textiles against a uniform. One never knows what contaminants are on a uniform, and bacteria will transfer.
• Never carry clean or contaminated textiles cradled in unclothed arms, for the same reason — bacterial transfer. Wear gloves and carry only what can be carried safely.
• Never stage clean textiles outside of a room or on a shelf outside of a room. Contaminated surfaces abound.
• Always ensure that clean textiles are stored on shelving units that are covered; even in clean storage rooms, textiles should always be covered.
The skin comes in contact with textiles more in a hospital than many realize. Whether textiles come from an HLAC-accredited laundry plant or an on-premises laundry, ensuring hygienically clean textiles from processing, distribution and on to patient use cannot be taken lightly.
Ever vigilant and ever hygienically clean, it is a great responsibility.
By John Scherberger, CHESP, REH, owner, Healthcare Risk Mitigation, Spartanburg, S.C.
Valuable resources available
AHE represents, defines and advances the professionals responsible for care of the health care environment to ensure high-quality outcomes and healthy communities. Here are a few of the resources that AHE offers.
• Recommended Practice Series: Environmental Services Equipment and Supplies. The equipment and supplies covered in this booklet are essential, discrete components of safe, efficient and productive environmental services (ES) operations. For more information, go to www.ahe.org/ahe/learn/tools_and_resources/publications.shtml.
• Expanding Your Influence in Today's Healthcare Environment. What skills must you develop to expand your influence, and position ES as a department to be reckoned with? This prerecorded webinar explores effective communication skills and how emotional intelligence can be leveraged to influence others. To access it, log on to www.ahe.org/education.
• AHE Environmental Sustainability Certificate Program. AHE has launched a new certificate program to acknowledge the ongoing and outstanding environmental and ecological sustainability efforts of ES departments. For more information on the program, go to www.ahe.org/ahe/lead/environmental_sustainability_certificate_program.shtml.