Creating good first impressions

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Ross Skadsberg
Ross Skadsberg

Who doesn't like fresh clean linens and towels? And who isn't put off by stains, odors or other indications that they are not? That's how we all react at home, and it's a critical issue when folks are selecting a long-term care community which will become their new home.

Ecolab commissioned a survey of 400 Americans who were making decisions about long-term care, either for themselves or for a loved one. The vast majority equated cleanliness with quality of care. Fully 93% agreed with the statement: If a senior living community is not clean, it suggests to me that staff might not take good care of the residents either. 

The reality is even more direct: Cleanliness is part of quality care because it's essential to the comfort and health of your residents…what you can't see can hurt someone. This is true throughout your communities and especially so with regard to linens and towels. Older populations are more vulnerable to infection and illness. They often have weakened immune systems and our natural skin barrier becomes less effective as we age. In such an environment, pathogens can spread quickly unless staff is trained to prevent it and is constantly vigilant.

Preventing cross-contamination

One of the most important steps a community can take is to prevent cross-contamination between dirty laundry and clean. Some pathogens can survive for weeks on soft surfaces. Dirty laundry needs to be removed, bagged and stored away from the clean, and clean storage and carts should never be used for the dirty. You need to assure that no common surfaces are shared between the two. That includes the hands of staff as they remove dirty linens and replace them with fresh clean ones. 

Hygienically Clean Linen should be clean and stain free but it's not enough. The washing process needs to deliver hygienically clean results with the use of sufficiently high temperatures and/or chemicals to remove microorganisms from linen. 

Skin Compatibility is a Must 

The physical and chemical properties of clean laundry are also important. If not adequately softened, fabrics can contribute to a weakened skin barrier increasing the opportunity for pathogens to enter the body, whether that's from the linens or some other source of contamination. Even just the physical discomfort of skin irritation can impact residents' quality of life. A high-quality fabric softener will help make residents safer as well as more comfortable. Another important consideration is linen pH. Healthy human skin is acidic, ranging from a pH of 4 to 7. That acidity is important for maintaining the natural flora of healthy skin helping to fight infection by keeping pathogens away. 

Studies have shown that when skin is exposed to a higher pH, the pH of skin is increased and that it can take up to 6 hours for the skin to rebalance its pH. When the pH of skin is elevated, the natural flora of healthy skin is compromised and an opportunity for pathogenic bacteria to flourish is created. Therefore, it is important to be cognizant of the pH of items contacting skin (including linen) to support healthy skin. To keep the pH of washed laundry close to the skin's natural pH level it's important to use laundry products with a sour chemical (acid rinse). This is especially important for things like clothing and bed linens that are in continuous contact with the skin for hours at a time. 

Consider Resident Turnover

One place to be especially careful is whenever you turn rooms over to new residents. You want to be sure that any pathogens left behind from the previous resident are removed. This applies to everything in the room, not just laundry, but improperly handled laundry is one transmission pathway that you want to be sure is closed. Your residents and their families already appreciate the importance of having high standards for cleanliness. Does your staff hold those same high standards? And, are they trained in how to assure that your laundry is hygienically clean, safe and odor free? Given the high rate of employee turnover that's prevalent in long-term care, those standards need to be continually taught and reinforced. You'll be assuring that first impressions — and lasting impressions — are favorable. 

Ross Skadsberg, director of Long Term Care Marketing for Ecolab's Institutional business, is responsible for understanding the customer and market, developing products and program innovation, and positioning Ecolab as a business partner and thought leader with customers in this industry. He can be reached at ross.skadsberg@ecolab.com.

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