I can think of few other industries that have the level of oversight and public exposure quite like long-term care. This makes the list of threats facing a skilled nursing or assisted living facility arduously unique. The balancing act between resident safety, satisfaction, and running an efficient community can seem like a near-impossible task. Even when you do everything right, setbacks still regularly occur. One of the most prevalent and needless obstacles is failing to protect residents from healthcare-associated illnesses.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines HAIs as the infections patients get while receiving medical treatment in a healthcare facility. This means, a patient returns to your post-acute care residence after being treated at a hospital for Ailment X. During their recovery process, the same patient contracts Ailment Y and must return to the hospital. 

This scenario played out more than 2 million times last year alone, with roughly 10% of the victims dying from HAI.  Part of the problem long-term care professionals face when combatting HAIs is they do not realize the full spectrum of options available. The CDC provides a long list of tips and tactics for reducing HAIs — everything from stricter glove protocols to deploying harsh, chemical disinfectants onto hands and surfaces. But these options are largely reactionary, not to mention labor intensive. It is not humanly possible for your staff to effectively clean each and every surface that can harbor bacteria. Studies have shown that over 50% of surfaces are never cleaned. Frankly, if we want to win the battle against HAI, we need to approach this problem from a different perspective.

Think about the air flowing through your community right now. Beyond just being the fuel our bodies need to stay alive, did you know that it serves a transmission channel for hosts of airborne viruses, bacteria, pathogens, molds and allergens? A 2014 study on airborne contaminates held at MIT demonstrated that infectious droplets can travel in the air up to 200x longer than previous data suggested. Suddenly the harmless air seems a lot more hazardous.

Before you start issuing hazmat suits to your staff, there are a host of high-tech options available for treating the air in your facility- everything from UV-pulsing robots to purportedly magic filtration systems. The problem with these options, and a lot of the other alternatives, is they are extremely expensive. A single UV robot from a leading manufacturer can cost upwards of $80,000 per unit. What good is the solution if the cost is multiple times higher than the problem it solves?

One cost-efficient technology that has been proven effective in reducing airborne pathogens and bacteria is plasma. Yes, like the stuff in TV sets. Plasma is energized, ionized gas, into which sufficient energy is provided to free electrons from atoms or molecules, thus allowing species, ions, and electrons the ability to coexist. Harmless to humans, plasma air technology can effectively destroy airborne bacteria, pathogens, mold, even bacteria like C. diff and MRSA.

When plasma technology is applied in conjunction with more traditional methods of infection prevention, such as hand washing and surface cleaning, the spread of airborne disease in a long term care residence drops dramatically. Protocols for hand-washing, surface cleaning and isolation of residents with infections are all important preventative steps. Cleansing the air with plasma technology allows you to go further and reduce the presence of airborne pathogens, leading to improved business and quality of care in your community.

For more information about the history of airborne pathogens and the evolution of treatment, check out this free infographic.

Joe Crowley is an infection control specialist at Novaerus.