Healthcare facilities are continuously filled with contractor employees performing necessary work. This includes elevator technicians, painters, flooring contractors, plumbers, electricians and more – all without functional knowledge of how their work can negatively affect an immune-compromised patient. More than 50 percent of all Aspergillus, spp. related hospital acquired infections (HAIs), which are contracted due to common molds attached to dust particles, are caused by maintenance or construction related work.
In an effort to reduce the overwhelming number of HAIs that occur annually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that ALL personnel working in a healthcare facility have infection control training. The following crucial steps should be followed by all contractors working in the facility to reduce the impact of contractor-related HAIs in healthcare systems and maximize patient health.
- Flush water supply lines
Deadly bacteria can be found in water pipes where water does not move – known as dead legs. Dead legs are perfect incubation locations for microbes and must be eliminated. Flushing water systems also controls the debris of potential dislodge from vibration disturbance in the wall.
- Store materials in dry areas to prevent molding
Mold grows quickly in a moisture-filled environment and travels through the air. Patients exposed to mold can acquire serious health issues. Before putting away construction materials, check the storage area for high humidity or water damage.
- Clean all equipment daily and thoroughly
Debris removal and dust control are extremely important to preventing HAIs. Be sure that the ventilation systems in a construction area are securely sealed to prevent bacteria being exposed to clean areas in the facility.
- Ensure workers leaving the site are clean
Before leaving a job site, remove debris from clothing and shoes. Exiting a construction area covered in the smallest amount of dust or other harmful, bacteria-laden debris can expose an immune-compromised patient to a deadly HAI.
- Transport all materials correctly
When transporting materials from one location to the next, correctly cover with tight fitting plastic or a dampened clean cloth to avoid airborne infections.
- Become aware of CDC and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) requirements
Knowledge of recommended or required infection control training for contractors is essential in improving hospital efficiency.
- Implement facility-wide infection control training
Facilitating a hospital-wide training model that can be accessed 24/7 for all contractor staff ensures that the staff will be educated to make a difference and improve patient care. Address issues that healthcare staff members encounter on a daily basis to eliminate reoccurrence. Every contractor employee that enters the hospital should complete the training courses and learn about their role in HAI prevention.
- Record all construction and renovation work
Documenting maintenance projects will aid in fighting legal action if a patient acquires an HAI. Lawyers representing an HAI patient build cases around facility negligence, resulting in unsettling legal fees and a loss of credibility.
Imagine the following scenario occurring in your facility:
Contractor employees are working near a Radiology Suite without proper barriers and engineering controls. As they work, they disrupt a debris cart-cover made of fabric that has not been cleaned in over a month. The bacteria and fungi that had been carried on the cover now travel through the air and attach to medical instruments, lab coats and other items that will come into contact with patients throughout the hospital. Although the contractors were following protocol, they did not know how infections are spread and consequently did not take the necessary precautions to protect patients. Even the smallest amount of migrating dust can severely harm patients, especially those who have weakened immune systems, and result in the development of an HAI or even death.
An alarming five percent of all hospital stays result in readmissions due to infections that patients acquire in the healthcare facility. HAIs are widely seen as preventable and often caused by hospital conditions or human error. Each year, HAIs are costing healthcare facilities more than $30 billion and are, more importantly, claiming 99,000 lives – that’s 271 deaths each day. To reduce the risk of HAIs, which are now claiming more lives annually than AIDs, breast cancer and car accidents combined, all contractors should become familiar with and follow these crucial tips in preventing contractor-related HAIs.
Thom Wellington is the co-founder of Infection Control University and CEO of Wellington Environmental. Reach him at: [email protected].