Environmental services and housekeeping have found themselves on the front lines of the pandemic.
“During these current times, these two critical departments are shining for the world to see,” says Donald F. Breneman, vice president of risk management and business operations, Juniper Communities.
With that attention has come a changing perception of the fields and their role not just in senior living communities but at a wide range of facilities. Amanda Bakken, lead chemist, research, development, and engineering at Ecolab, says the concept of healthy environments has evolved over the past two years, resulting in more focus on cleaning for health and reducing community-spread illness.
“This has led to a greater interest in and deeper understanding of the science behind cleaning and disinfection and the importance of facilities staff as the first line of defense against the spread of infectious diseases,” Bakken says.
The senior living audience recognizes their importance. According to internal Ecolab research, 93 percent of prospective residents see a direct link between cleanliness and quality of care.
“How we keep our environments as clean and pathogen-free as possible in today’s world is not only important for the financial and clinical outcomes for our communities, but also a benchmark by which our consumers see us as a successful organization and a safe environment by which to give care,” says Edward Burton, vice president of special operations at ALG Senior.
Increased awareness, however, has come with more challenges.
“Staff have had to adjust to new cleaning protocols and frequencies and, in some instances, expand their roles to include new tasks and fill gaps due to staffing shortages,” Bakken says. “Overall, facilities teams have been tasked with doing more with less.”
Burton says increasingly sophisticated equipment is helping strengthen cleaning in senior living environments. In particular, automation and self-monitoring products are helping to assist in cleaning faster and more efficiently.
Air monitoring and cleaning systems, surfaces that resist bacteria, and advanced automatic cleaning sprays are helping staff “work smarter and more efficiently with less effort,” Burton says.
“Advancements and automation are important,” Burton says. “While humans are prone to error, machines and programs rarely skip steps and ensure a more thorough and accurate process by which we know when and what to clean and disinfect.”
Bakken says environmental services teams have been “intentional with product and tool selection,” focusing on products with specific claims that can optimize operations.“For instance, many sought out multi-purpose disinfectants with short contact times, flexible application methods, and robust claim sets, while ensuring the product was compatible with standard furniture, fixtures, and equipment,” Bakken says.
In this environment, Burton says organizations should make clear to team members their importance—and that they are valued for their work.
“The training provided must instill understanding and motivation,” Burton says. “Environmental services is a big part of the clinical team and the success of resident and patient care. When everyone knows their role is important, they become more motivated to the overall success of the organization.”
“Motivated team members are likely to have team-building collaboration. This team building helps everyone to watch out for one another’s work [and] cleaning and self-monitor for any needs/issues that may arise.”
“Even the best air cleaner, product, or equipment is worthless without teams that are trained and working well together as one.”
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