As bacteria becomes more resistant to cleaning methods, custodial operations are finding technology must play an increasing role in protecting nursing home residents from infectious diseases.

In September 2015, Pine Crest Nursing Home joined the ranks of a growing number of nursing homes in North America that have implemented a new airborne pathogen reduction technology designed to counter HAIs. Novaerus technology essentially “scrubs the air” to keep infections at bay. It provides 24/7 protection from airborne pathogens by passing air through its patented disruptive plasma field, which is basically a wall of high-intensity, ultraviolet radiation that safely destroys virus’ protein biofilms, breaks down the cell walls of bacteria, and denatures mold, allergens and odors.

In 2013, a study of this device by scientists at Microsearch Laboratories, revealed that the Novaerus system killed all but 0.001 percent of bacterial cells, bacterial spores, mold and yeast. The study found that the technology destroyed all but one billionth of a percent of viruses like influenza and norovirus, and that cleaning the air in this fashion also kept surfaces cleaner. In fact, lab tests found microbe counts were reduced on surfaces by up to 90 percent when the technology was used.

The Novaerus system comes in portable units that can be placed anywhere and sanitize roughly 400 square feet, as well as larger units that can be installed into walls or ceilings, and cover much larger areas.

The Raleigh, North Carolina company’s technology, which was originally developed for NASA, has been trialed at Pine Crest’s dementia unit, which has about 20 residents. They have deployed three units there — one in the nursing station and two portable units move between patient rooms.

“We have seen a decrease in our respiratory infection rates after using the technology, and will likely install Novaerus in other areas of the facility,” says Slaminski.

They started in the dementia unit because residents congregate in its central area for most of the day.

“The chances of spreading germs there is pretty high,” he says, “because they gather in this smaller area. Residents living in the other units have a larger area to move around, and their hygiene practices — handwashing and cough etiquette — are better.”

Besides fewer infections, Slaminski adds they’ve seen a reduction in odors.

“Sometimes urine and other restroom odors can be very strong,” he says. “We have used this technology to combat foul-smelling rooms, which has really been effective.”

Hope In Handwashing

The CDC reports handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disease. Since this is a focus in nursing homes, Slaminski set out to beef up handwashing habits.

All employees are trained on proper handwashing, including when, where and why it’s done. Hand sanitizer stations were also installed outside every resident room, and staff is instructed to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer for use at patient bedsides.

“We are also looking at putting hand sanitizer dispensers inside patient rooms,” Slaminski says.

Hand hygiene programs weren’t limited to only staff. The facility also implemented programs aimed at getting visitors to use the hand sanitizing dispensers. They installed a dispenser by the front door, and placed signage reminding visitors of proper hand hygiene throughout the facility.

To keep proper hand hygiene in the forefront of infection prevention, audits are routinely completed by Infection Control committee members, supervisors and charges.

“Staff are asked to demonstrate proper handwashing techniques,” says Slaminski. “We also audit staff using sanitizer dispensers, as well as complete whole-house infection prevention and control in-services twice a year.”

With the new disinfectant, technology, and handwashing protocol in play, Pine Crest has seen a reduction in infection rates throughout the facility. 

RONNIE GARRETT is a freelancer based in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.