Residents of long term care facilities, assisted living and retirement communities often have compromised immune systems or are dealing with health concerns. Infection prevention, control and overall cleanliness are critically important. These facts are on everyone’s mind these days with the outbreak of COVID-19, and the threat that germs from bacteria and viruses bring to those most vulnerable in our society.
There is no doubt that cleaning, disinfecting and sterilization at long term facilities, assisted living and retirement homes call for specialized commercial cleaning services. This is essential not just because of the quality and effectiveness of the cleaning, but also, the sensitive nature of cleaning in someone’s “home”. These are not just facilities. They are places chosen by loved ones for loved ones, where people live in community with others—staff, healthcare professionals, volunteers and visitors.
The very nature of such homes, however, means that germs can easily threaten the community, especially because so many people are in and out of the buildings each day, including the rooms of the residents. If someone does have an infection, germs are easily passed on if simple procedures such as proper handwashing, or keeping surfaces wiped clean aren’t followed. Outbreaks of infectious diseases, as we’ve seen, can spread quickly and with devasting results.
Infection Prevention and Control at long-term care facilities, assisted living and retirement communities
Best practices for cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing and sterilizing at long term care facilities, assisted living and retirement communities are widely available through public health agencies across the country. In Ontario, the best resources are provided by PIDAC-IPC, a multidisciplinary committee of health care professionals with expertise and experience in Infection Prevention and Control. Documents produced by the PIDAC-IPC incorporate guidelines and recommendations from entities such as the Public Health Agency of Canada and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, as well as recommendations from medical literature.
In the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic in the US, additional directives to fight the spread of the virus and other illnesses have emerged. A few to check out include:
- Tips for Preparing for COVID-19: Long-term Care Facilities, Nursing Homes (CDC)
- YouTube webinar by the CDC on how to prepare a long term care facility against COVID-19
Defining cleaning, disinfecting, sanitizing and sterilizing
To ensure the safety of residents and staff, varying circumstances require different approaches, and often, specific cleaning products and methods. Although “cleaning” is often used in a broad sense, cleaning is not the same as disinfecting. So let’s start by defining some of the terms:
- Cleaning is the process of removing dirt and other impurities from a surface, typically by using soap (or detergent) and water. Cleaning lowers the number germs and makes a surface look better, but it doesn’t kill all the germs. Cleaning, however, is typically done first.
- Sanitizing is a process that works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects. Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements.
- Disinfecting is a process that kills all germs on surface and objects after cleaning. It works by using chemicals specified for the kind of germ (when known) and disinfecting tools such as electrostatic technology.
- Sterilization is the process of destroying or eliminating all forms of microbial life. It’s carried out in health-care facilities using physical or chemical methods.
What is the best way to clean a resident’s room to keep it germ free?
A term used by Public Health Canada is “Health care clean,” an approach to cleaning that aims to reduce or eliminate microbial contamination within the environment. Instructions and protocols for carrying out “health care clean” are provided by regional healthcare units (in accordance with Public Health Canada) for use at long term care facilities, assisted living and retirement communities in the region.
For example, it’s specified that a resident’s room be cleaned daily, including all touched surfaces, and using a hospital grade disinfectant. Additional measures are required when a resident is known or suspected to be infected with a specific organism.
Best practices also call for checklists in order to monitor that the cleaning has been scheduled and completed, and periodic audits to make sure that cleaning protocols are being followed.
How to effectively clean and disinfect a long-term care facility after an infection outbreak
During a full outbreak, enhanced cleaning and disinfection is required throughout a facility, and if possible, products are specified that are known to combat the organism causing the illness.
In the case of COVID-19, for example, products used need to be ones that kill viruses not just bacteria. Currently, Health Canada has approved 222 products (updated daily) that are effective at killing the virus. In addition, there’s a range of emerging disinfection technologies, including robotic ultraviolet light and electrostatic sprayers that mist fine disinfectant which bolster existing cleaning methods.
How do I know my cleaning company is doing a good job?
The COVID-19 virus is accelerating the push for cleaning innovation. Today, and going forward, long term care facilities, assisted living and retirement communities are going to need the expertise of professional cleaning services that know the unique requirements of their environment and is equipped to meet them. Commercial cleaning companies such as Kleenway that utilize disinfecting tools such as EPA-registered disinfectants and electrostatic technology provide peace of mind that the right products and leading, approved methods are being used.
- Training is another critical area (and an area where Kleenway is a leader). One of the learnings from the COVID-19 experience is that the job of a front-line worker, i.e., cleaning staff, matter. Training and certifying cleaning professionals to use the right products and cleaning methods correctly is critical when selecting a cleaning company for a retirement home, long term care or assisted living facility.
- Checklists, room by room, and situation by situation, also are crucial. Commercial cleaning companies need to be able to provide progress reports, quality management systems, audit tracking for quality service delivery, key performance metrics reports, and facility- or project-specific internal audit schedules.
Finally, these are homes where people live. A good cleaning company should customize a schedule with the facility administrator to decrease disruptions, use noise-reduced equipment, and select cleaning products and methods that both safe and effective.
Families of loved ones in retirement homes ask, “Give us peace of mind”
Everyone has become more aware and knowledgeable throughout this crisis in terms of cleanliness, public health and honest, transparent information. Already we are hearing a demand from love ones for assurance that best practices are in place. Going forward, all facilities are going to need to demonstrate that the facility cleaning service they use follow the latest recommended protocols and best practices.
It’s not going to be good enough to say, “We have a cleaning service”; the answer, instead, is going to have to be “we use this particular commercial cleaning services, and this is why they give us confidence that our staff and are residents stay safe.”
For more than 35 years Kleenway has been providing superior and trusted commercial cleaning and facility maintenance services for long term care facilities and retirement residences. Contact us for a quote today.