Archive April 2016 XVII, No. 4

Infection Prevention: Housekeepers Are Your SSI Foot Soldiers

A dedicated cleaning crew is the first line of defense against infections.

Rodney Rohde, PhD, MS, SV, SM(ASCP)CM, MBCM


infection prevention UNDERRATED WEAPON In the ever-evolving world of infection prevention, environmental services training has to be ongoing, and leadership needs to ensure that it's kept up to date.

Your environmental services staff plays a critical role in preventing healthcare-associated infections, yet we often fail to recognize how important housekeepers are to keeping patients safe from cross-contamination, especially when it comes to good surface decontamination. And the inevitable result, unfortunately, is that when facilities start feeling strapped or looking for places to save, housekeeping, because it's not directly involved in health care, is often among the first cuts. But that can be a trap — a 'cost-saving' measure that ends up being a lot more expensive down the road.

Studies drive home the point
Many peer-reviewed studies confirm the critical role that environmental services plays in preventing infections. For example, a 2013 study in BMC Infectious Diseases ( concluded that 'environmental cleaning should be considered as an integral component of MRSA infection control in hospitals.' The authors acknowledge that housekeeping doesn't always get the respect it deserves — that, if anything, it deserves greater emphasis. 'Given the previously under-appreciated role of surface contamination in MRSA transmission, this intervention mode can contribute to an effective multiple barrier approach in concert with hand hygiene.'

And it's not just the fight against MRSA. Another study published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology ( the same year recognized the importance of ES in the fight against C. difficile, as noted in a release by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA): 'New research finds that a dedicated daily cleaning crew who adequately clean and disinfect rooms contaminated by C. difficile using a standardized process can be more effective than other disinfection interventions.'

Antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs' are on the rise, creating a sense of urgency and a desperate search for solutions. But, says Michael Gardam, MSc, MD, CM, CIC, FRCPC, one of Canada's leading infectious-disease specialists, 'environmental services is not being recognized as the incredibly important patient safety initiative it is.'

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