The Association for the Health Care Environment (AHE) kicked off the 2019 Exchange Conference & Solution Center this morning in San Antonio. The conference features experts and thought leaders in the health care field with a focus on environmental services, infection prevention and patient experience.

AHE President Pam Toppel, CHESP, T-CHEST, started off the morning general session challenging environmental services leaders to “show up and step up,” for their departments and organizations. Toppel is the manager of the environmental services eastern region at OSF HealthCare Saint James. She gave four strategies attendees can use to continue improving health care outcomes.

  • Take ownership and action before being forced
  • Add value through leadership and education
  • Take the lead on projects using data and evidence
  • Sharpen business acumen

“We need to step up and be the ones driving the change,” she says.

Jake Poore, president and chief experience officer of Integrated Loyalty Systems, continued the theme of excellence in his keynote address “Destination of Choice: Creating Loyalty and Value by Designing World Class Patient Experiences.”

In his address, Poore discussed the importance of creating a culture with intention rather than falling into a culture by default.

“We, as leaders, have to connect our employees to purpose,” he says, and moving away from a task-driven to a mission-driven mindset will help health care organizations reach that goal. He says enforcing the human-business-human model during this journey will teach employees how to connect with patients and improve their experience.

“You enter on the human by introducing yourself,” he says. “Then you conduct your business while narrating as you do it. Ask them if this is a good time to clean. And when you’re done, you exit on the human, such as wishing them a good day as you leave.

“When you do this, you build trust,” Poore continued. “If you skip the human aspect, you lose trust.”

The afternoon general session followed with a focus on disinfection and sterilization in the health care setting. William Rutala, MS, MPH, PhD, director of the Statewide Program for Infection Control and Epidemiology, and a professor for the division of infectious diseases at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine talked about best practices for disinfection of noncritical surfaces in health care facilities.

Rutala emphasized using a bundled approach to control infections and gave an example of five strategies that can help to create a holistic process.  

  • Develop policies and procedures. This should be done by a multidisciplinary team, based on evidence and standardized throughout the department. Answer questions such as “Who is responsible for cleaning what?”
  • Selecting products. No single product can do it all, Rutala says. However, it’s important to choose products that have several ideal properties.
  • Educate staff. Take time and effort to communicate the policy. This includes environmental services, nurses and any other staff that play a role in the health care environment.
  • Monitor compliance. Visual observation is not reliable. Use methods such as fluorescent marking to ensure disinfection is done properly. “If we have a wonderful product but only apply it to 30% of surfaces, it’s not going to be effective,” he says.
  • No-touch decontamination. Automated disinfection systems, such as those using ultraviolet light or hydrogen peroxide vapor, cannot replace manual cleaning, Rutala says. However, no-touch systems are proven to help reduce health care-associated infections, he explains.

Rutala also discussed new research being done to continue evolving disinfection products. For instance, developing colorized disinfectants that are designed to fade according to their contact times could help to ensure fewer spots are missed during manual cleaning. Rutala says the field should also continue advancing continuous disinfection products to increase their effectiveness. Some emerging products in this arena are visible light disinfection, persistent disinfectants and systems that continuously emit low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide that are not harmful to occupants.   

Check back tomorrow for our Day 2 coverage of AHE Exchange.