Since of onset of COVID-19, hospitals around the world have had to ramp up the frequency of cleaning and disinfection, especially in areas housing suspect or confirmed cases. However, this need for increased cleaning also further strained already-thin resources.
“The current COVID-19 situation has stretched our resources, with the added tasks that our housekeepers need to perform to ensure full compliance to infection control standards and quick turnaround of wards and other areas to protect our patients and staff,” said Mr Ng Kian Swan, Chief Operating Officer, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH) and Jurong Community Hospital in Singapore.
For NTFGH, the introduction of a UV cleaning robot has helped to take off some load by complementing cleaning of ward rooms by the housekeeping team. After manual cleaning and wiping protocol has been carried out by housekeepers, the robot is deployed to disinfect the room using high energy, broad spectrum UV light technology.
The process of cleaning surfaces first (physically removing dust or other material), followed by disinfecting, is in line with guidelines from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to ensure that disinfectants can come into direct contact with the pathogens and kill them effectively1. The two rounds of disinfection – both manual and by the robot – as well as an upgrade to bleach-based disinfectant for cleaning, help ensure an effective cleaning and disinfection process.
Importance of staff education and training
While the robot has been added to shoulder part of the disinfection procedures, a great deal of surface cleaning and disinfection is still carried out by housekeeping staff.
Thus, the hospital places a great emphasis on staff adhering to its cleaning procedures which are closely guided by its infection control specialists, as well as practices set out by Ministry of Health, said Mr Ng. “To help safeguard against potential contamination especially in patient areas, and guard against emerging and re-emerging threats, the importance of complying with cleaning and disinfecting protocols is regularly reinforced to all housekeepers. Ongoing education, training and monitoring is important to ensure compliance,” he noted.
The hospital currently outsources its housekeeping services, as it allows for cost and time savings, as well as reliability of service provision. Partnering with a vendor also allows the hospital to tap on the knowledge and experience of vendors, their latest equipment and be in the know of industry best practices.
With outsourcing comes the need to ensure outsourced staff are able to meet the high standards of hospital / healthcare facility cleaning. In this aspect, NTFGH ensures the contract outlines infection control-related responsibilities, housekeeping procedures, as well as the service provider’s responsibility for employee health and mandatory training, Mr Ng explained. In addition, the hospital conducts regular checks and training to ensure high cleaning standards. “Our housekeepers follow strict policies and procedures for the cleaning and disinfection of patient care and general areas in the hospital. Prior to being allowed to perform housekeeping duties, they receive training and are required to undergo a competency check before they will be deployed independently. We also conduct a monthly environmental cleaning audit to assess the effectiveness of surface cleaning.”
Need for enhanced infection control measures
Besides ensuring effective cleaning, the hospital has also adopted new measures in infection control, particularly at high-touch points which are potential routes of infection spread.
Lift buttons have been identified as one area that carries a lot of risk of transmission. To mitigate this issue, NTFGH installed “touchless buttons” in lifts, where users can simply hover their fingers near the buttons to activate them. As the first local hospital to do so, NTFGH now offers touch-free lift operation that reduces and eliminates the transmission of bacteria and virus among public, staff and patients.
Sterilisers emitting UV-C light – which kills germs and pathogens – have also been installed above selected lift buttons and escalator handrails in areas with high footfall, said Mr Ng.
In this drawn-out fight with COVID-19, the importance of strict infection control precautions and compliance has been underscored like never before. Besides adhering to the regulations, hospitals will benefit from exploring ways to further boost their infection control efforts, whether in introducing new products or relooking at workflows and processes.
1 Take a look at this brochure for more information on how and where cleaning and disinfecting should be carried out – and how Rubbermaid HYGEN microfiber cloths can be utilised for this purpose.