Housekeeping Feature: They're keepers
Housekeeping departments are often taken for granted, but their work can have far-reaching effects on LTC facilities and residents
Cleanliness may or may not be next to godliness. But there's no doubt it affects how residents, their families, prospective residents and inspectors judge your facility.
Even if housekeeping seems like a blase subject to some, it's clear it requires devout attention. Or else.
"It's one of those areas that some don't put a whole lot of importance to – unless you're not doing it well. Then it certainly becomes a big issue," observes Charles E. Rice, administrator at the Lutheran Retirement Home in Jamestown, NY.
"It's a challenge, of course, because there are always accidents going to be happening at one time or another. If housekeeping hasn't been in to clean up a situation . . ."
That's where the infamous "smell test" comes into play. It's a critical factor for every nursing facility in the country, bar none. With roughly two-thirds of all residents showing signs of incontinence and millions of additional senior citizens on the way, the smell test will endure.
It's a core concern in any marketing plan -- and just one of many ways the housekeeping department has cross-over importance to other parts of the facility.
Hot housekeeping topics include the most effective ways to scrub and buff, but they also touch on vital personnel, risk management and image issues.
That includes how to get by the "smell test" consistently, and without overdoing it so your facility smells like a disinfectant factory.
Cheryl Hawk, environmental services director at Valley Center in South Charleston, WV, takes the smell test for granted. It's going to happen. She, in turn, is among the many housekeeping managers who are used to having her workers taken for granted.
"If there's a piece of paper in view, laying in the hallway, most people would just walk around it and think, 'That's housekeeping's – they'll get it.' But everybody's supposed to stop and pick it up," she noted.
Assisting others seems to be a hallmark of Hawk's philosophy at the 130-bed Valley Center.
"It's good to help each other when you can. If a resident needs something, you can answer the light. If you can't do something, you get the CNA who has that person and tell them. But for something as simple as a drink of water, we do that," Hawk explained. "We do everything except take them to the bathroom and feed them."
The most challenging thing about her job is keeping the floors buffed properly, Hawk said.
"It's just hard to keep up with the floors with people who don't work in-house going in and out," she said of various contractors. "Then, others slide furniture and locked beds down the hall, which leaves scratch marks. They don't think about what they're doing. They all know they're not supposed to do it but do it anyway."
Cleaning and buffing are not to be taken lightly, experts agree.
"Does your housekeeping unit or environmental services contractor know you have to use a matte finish on floor care?" posed Mark Regna, director of healthcare services for Jani-King, Dallas, which supplies services to about 375 long-term care facilities. "If you use high-gloss wax, elderly people who have no depth perception think they're falling in a hole.
"There are also concerns of cross-contamination when cleaning, if you're taking materials from room to room," Regna continued. "They say you shouldn't use the same mop water for more than three rooms."
The prospect of cross-contamination is critical in numerous areas that housekeeping personnel must deal with every day (see sidebar). Whether it's scrubbing materials that should not be intermingled or proper handling of linens, there is little room for absent-mindedness.
"Long-term care facilities are much more difficult to clean than a hospital," said Regna, a licensed nursing home administrator from Tennessee. "You have to work around long-term residents who have stuff in their rooms. It's a much bigger job than cleaning a hospital."
Beds should be "taken apart" and cleaned between residents, but ideally more often, Regna said. Disinfecting still takes p