Medical Facility Managers Can Lead the Way to Better Sanitary Practices

    By Dan Storto,
    Senior Vice President, World Dryer Corp.

    According to a survey conducted in July of 2011, by Cintas Corporation and Harris Interactive, 94 percent of adults would try to avoid any business where they encountered a dirty restroom. More specifically, 77 percent of those surveyed noted that they would avoid a healthcare facility in particular if it had a dirty restroom. Considering that refusing to use a department store restroom is a trivial decision compared to refusing to use a particular hospital for that reason, these results appear to reflect the heightened public awareness of dangerous infections such as MRSA and H1N1, as well as the view – justified or not – that healthcare facilities are among the most likely places for exposure to disease-causing bacteria and viruses.

    With these concerns for cleanliness, imagine the reaction if a patron walked into a public restroom at your facility and found paper towels strewn across the floor. This scenario very likely would trigger questions about the sanitary conditions everywhere else in the building. Today, many healthcare facility managers have become acutely sensitive to these hygienic issues and are seeking ways to renovate, operate, and maintain the cleanliness of the facilities under their charge.

    Keeping hands clean

    The popular use of hand sanitizers is but one indication that no one wants to touch something where someone else’s possibly bacteria-laden hands have been—especially at a healthcare facility. Because of the public’s perception of the need to reduce or eliminate the risk of infection related to restrooms, terms such as “hands-free” and “touchless” are widely accepted today as signals that a fixture or device is relatively cleaner and safer to use than those that must be grasped, pressed, pushed, or otherwise operated by hand.  As a result, healthcare facility managers are finding alternatives like motion-sensor soap dispensers, automatic faucets and touchless hand dryers that help eliminate the need to touch surfaces.

    Truthfully, hand hygiene does play a fundamental role in minimizing the spread of bacteria, viruses and parasites. Dangerous microorganisms and bacteria collect on the surface of the skin, but proper and frequent hand washing with soap and water, coupled with sanitary hand drying techniques, can dramatically reduce the spread of harmful disease and bacteria especially in those areas of the facility that are accessible to the public or casual visitors.

    All of the above issues are creating a “new normal” in the automation of public restrooms. Manufacturers have listened to consumer-driven concerns and designed options that minimize the need to touch any surface in a public restroom whenever possible. Additionally, some manufacturers of hand dryers have developed antimicrobial technology to shield against the build-up of bacteria as well as improving efficiency and dry times to further bolster sanitary safeguards.

    For example, newer, progressive automatic hand dryers feature embedded anti-microbial additives that use disinfectant substances to kill or inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as germs, mold, and bacteria as a way of further improving the hand hygiene process. In fact, studies have shown that anti-microbial technology is 99 percent effective against E. Coli and MRSA. Touchless hand dryer models prevent the possible contamination of the buttons, knobs and levers common on earlier models, and they are proving to be more sanitary than other hand drying alternatives.  Consumer feedback has shown drying time to be an issue, and hand dryer design teams have emphasized shortening drying time as a key element of the holistic hand hygiene process. Some manufacturers offer drying speeds as quick as 10 seconds – three times faster than traditional dryers – helping to ensure adequate drying that avoids the risk of water-based transfer of contaminants.

    Checklist for the public restroom

    The risk of cross-contamination in public-access restrooms traditionally has been recognized as a concern among managers of all types of healthcare facilities, and they have often led the way for improved sanitation in these areas. Following is a checklist outlining what you can do to update the restroom to maintain the highest standards of cleanliness.

    Touchless fixtures
    Are your faucets, soap dispensers, hand dryers, and toilets hands-free to reduce cross-contamination?  As well as improving sanitation, fixtures or devices with motion sensors have the added benefit of offering energy-efficiency and the ability to reduce costs by only turning on when someone is using them.

    Antimicrobial surfaces
    Some automatic hand dryers offer antimicrobial technology to shield against the build-up of bacteria on the device. Antimicrobial wall paint and flooring add even more protection against the spread of germs.  Antimicrobial additives for countertops, tiles and grout, and toilets are also available to help create germ-free, mold-free restrooms.

    Removal of paper towels
    Used paper towels can overflow trashcans and scatter onto the floor. Apart from providing potential for serious bacterial growth, this gives the appearance of an untidy, unclean restroom and actually discourages hand washing.  Automatic hand dryers keep a restroom appearing cleaner, eliminate user frustration when trying to pull a paper towel from a jammed-full dispenser, and also reduce the need for hour-by-hour maintenance. The motor life of some hand dryers now is two to three times longer than ever before, which could mean 10 to15 years of worry-free service in a tidier restroom.

    Soap dispensers
    Similar to paper towel mess, soap mess on the countertop leaves users with a negative perception of the cleanliness of your restroom.  Consider using foam dispensers, which drop soap drip-free into the hand automatically, in place of liquid dispensers, which can leave a soap string pooling onto the countertop or clogging the sink, forcing the user to omit the use of soap in the hygienic hand-washing routine.

    Paying attention to these simple considerations demonstrates to patients and visitors your commitment to a more hygienic restroom environment and encourages them to take full advantage of the healthy and convenient options that are now available to them.

    What should you really consider?

    The rising public awareness of the dangers of how bacteria and viruses are spread, particularly at healthcare facilities, suggests that patients and other visitors may have a very high expectation—in most cases, a requirement—of cleanliness at clinics, hospitals and other medical facilities. Publicly-accessed restrooms can demonstrate that you share their concerns and take every possible measure to prevent the spread of contamination as well as providing the opportunity for them to take personal precautions, like proper hand-washing.

    Minimizing exposure to contaminated waste materials and unclean restroom surfaces can help reduce the risk of spreading illness, and manufacturers today are working to develop convenient yet very effective fixtures and devices to support the best hygienic practices in your facility. Additionally, budgets may be tight and many of these innovations also can help conserve valuable resources while advancing cleanliness. As facility managers, you can set the course and the standard for organizations in your field as well as for all other businesses and industries.

    Dan Storto is senior vice president for Berkeley, IL-based World Dryer, a global manufacturer of hand dryers. He can be reached at dstorto@worlddryer.com.

    As seen in FacilityCare, November 2012 issue: According to a survey conducted in July of 2011, by Cintas Corporation and Harris Interactive, 94 percent of adults would try to avoid any business where they encountered a dirty restroom. More specifically, 77 percent of those surveyed noted that they would avoid a healthcare facility in particular if it had a dirty restroom.