Come on folks, do we really need a 'national day' for this?

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Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer
Marty Stempniak, Staff Writer

Forgive me for being such a cynic at my age, but I'm suffering from severe “national day” fatigue.

Apparently, the powers that be across this country got together and decided that every insignificant object or occurrence needs to have its own special time in the spotlight. Yesterday (May 3), was National Chocolate Custard Day (no love for vanilla?). Today is supposedly National Candied Orange Peel Day (why?), along with National Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you!) and National School Lunch Hero Day. I could go on and on. There's a whole website dedicated to this stuff.

So, you can understand why I roll my eyes every year when I start getting emails, pitching me story ideas to mark “Hand Hygiene Day,” which is Saturday (May 5). Nurses and aides are super smart, I reason, so do we really need a special day to remind them to do something as rudimentary as washing their hands? Give me a break.

But apparently, I am sorely mistaken, and such hand hygiene awareness is a cause more than worthy of its own special spot on the calendar, just like National Deep Dish Pizza Day last month. Upward of 3 million serious infections occur each year in long-term care facilities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They largely come in the form of urinary tract infections, diarrheal diseases and antibiotic-resistant staph, just to name a few. They're a major cause of those costly hospital readmissions that your organization is trying so dearly to avoid, and as many as 380,000 residents die annually in long-term care facilities from such infections, the CDC says.

They are actually the leading cause of death in nursing homes, at about 0.6 per 1,000 resident days. Besides bad outcomes for family members, of course, and potentially subsequent lawsuits, that's costing your organization a boatload — an estimated $1 billion in added annual healthcare costs, according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

For whatever reason, your hospital counterparts have a head start in spreading the handwashing and infection-prevention movement in their own institutions. But advocates, like the aforementioned APIC, are trying to change that. In February, the association published a study in its own journal, which found proof that harnessing hand hygiene methods, already popular in hospitals, can work in nursing home settings, too.

Targeting 26 nursing homes in France, researchers implemented the intervention in half, training staffers as well as residents, visitors and outside providers. Changes included giving all parties greater access to hand sanitizer, launching a campaign to promote hand hygiene, and forming localized work groups at each care site to pour over guidelines and educate employees. In the yearlong study, the intervention group experienced around a 21% lower mortality rate, while antibiotic prescriptions also dropped nearly 14%.

“Hand hygiene protocols have traditionally focused on acute-care settings. Our study is changing this narrative, underscoring that we can take a proven intervention practice and make it work outside of the hospital space, by specifically adapting it to long-term settings,” Laura Temime, lead author of the study and a professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, in Paris, said back in February.

Thankfully, with the work of those French researchers — and organizations like APIC, the CDC, CMS and the World Health Organization — your facility doesn't have to start from scratch on this work. Just yesterday, CMS sent out its own acknowledgment of Hand Hygiene Day, which included links to its informational video on proper handwashing, along with a web-based training course.

WHO's webpage dedicated to Saturday has lots of resources, too, including a 73-page (wow, really?!) guide to improving hand hygiene in long-term care facilities, along with outpatient and home-based settings. The Department of Health and Human Services also has developed its own strategies to address infections in long-term care, which is part of Phase 3 of the National Action Plan to Prevent Health Care-Associated Infections.

I could go on, but I'll stop there.

So, take a few moments out of your busy routine to talk about Hand Hygiene Day with your staffers Saturday, even if they initially roll their eyes, like me.

And if you have a break, maybe take a few moments to celebrate National Hoagie Day, which is also tomorrow. (Just wash your hands before eating.) You can thank me later.

Follow Staff Writer Marty Stempniak @MStempniak.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.