Editor’s note: This is the fourth in an occasional series of discussions with principals from associations along the supply chain. Each article will help familiarize BSCs with the association’s mission and members, as well as provide tips for working with partners in that market segment.

Building service contractors clean a variety of institutions: commercial office buildings, schools and universities, foodservice facilities and even hospitals. Each environment brings its own set of unique challenges and responsibilities.

Fortunately, cleaning professionals, both contract and in-house, can turn to associations to provide research, education and avenues to the latest product offerings to help make their cleaning duties easier. Since each facility requires its own specialized cleaning processes, associations, too, are catered to specific markets. For example, the American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services (ASHES) assists cleaning professionals of healthcare facilities.

In this installment of the CP interview, we speak with Patti Costello, executive director for ASHES. Before joining ASHES in 1999, she worked for five years at the American Society for Healthcare Engineering. Costello is also currently on the board of directors, executive committee and accreditation committee for the Healthcare Laundry Accreditation Council.

Contracting Profits: Who are the members of ASHES?
Patti Costello: Our members are directors, managers, supervisors, and in some cases, front line workers in environmental services. We also have subscribing and associate members representing the corporate and consulting side. Healthcare environmental services departments are responsible for the cleaning and disinfecting of facilities where healthcare services are provided. However, in ASHES it’s about more than cleaning. It’s also about the environment as a whole, which includes safety (for staff, clients and environment), textile care, laundry, linen, patient transport, waste management and recycling, and caring for the natural environment.

CP: Is membership open to building service contractors?
Absolutely, if they can provide management services that provide proper cleaning and disinfection services to healthcare facilities while following federal, state and local guidelines. Presently, 22 percent of our members are in contract management services.

CP: What is ASHES’ role regarding education?
Education is paramount. The cleaning profession (particularly healthcare) is one of the most misunderstood, and in many cases, lacking respect as a profession. To the average person, the use of the word custodian or janitor in-and-of-itself does not conjure up thoughts of a professional responsible for cleaning for health and hygiene — whether cleaning a healthcare facility or a convention center.

Healthcare cleaning is serious business, which is why ASHES wanted a knowledge-based certification program available to demonstrate mastery of a well-defined body of knowledge. Our program has three components:

  • Eligibility requirements that are a blend of education and experience, and profile the individual who is likely to be successful on the Certification Examination.
  • A 110-item multiple-choice Certification Examination that tests important tasks that are performed regularly in practice.
  • A renewal requirement. Certification is valid for three years at which time it must be renewed through retaking and passing the Certification Examination or documenting 45 contact hours of continuing professional education.

CP: Healthcare facilities are typically cleaned by an in-house cleaning staff. Do cleaning contractors have a part to play in the healthcare market?
Typically yes, healthcare facilities are cleaned by in-house departments. However, contractors have been in the business for years, and for years the in-house professional was fearful of contractors because for a time, many lost their jobs to contractors. However, ASHES does have a concern with anyone believing you can just come into a healthcare facility and provide these specialized services in the healthcare environment, and we won’t hesitate to make that well known.

One of the major concerns is making assumptions…just because it looks clean [people think] you can save time and don’t have to clean it. There are many different types of bacteria that proliferate on surfaces or are carried by a human host that can’t be seen by the human eye. So while it may look clean it may not be healthy or hygienic.

CP: How can an outsourced contractor work together with an in-house cleaning department?
There are many ways. The management professional who is creative, thinks out of the box, and is not concerned about bringing a contractor in for cyclical project work, floor maintenance, or construction cleaning is already ahead of the curve.

However, that contractor needs the training and education to navigate the myriad of requirements (especially regulatory) in providing services to a healthcare facility. Several examples are the type of equipment permitted for use in a healthcare facility or the difference in time and productivity in cleaning a empty office building vs. cleaning and working in an environment operating 24/7, 365 days a year with staff, visitors and patients always present.

CP: How has heathcare cleaning changed in the last decade?
It has changed tremendously. From robots to computer software to track patients, beds and equipment, technology has certainly played a role.

Microfiber and flat-mop systems are revolutionary products developed for cleaning efficacy and ergonomics. Proper chemical efficacy and dilution are also key in providing frontline disinfection of healthcare surfaces given the proliferation of emerging micro-organisms that are resistant to antibiotics and some chemicals.

I would also say the green movement is having an impact, but the right messaging about green, what it really means, and where it’s application is appropriate is not yet available.

CP: What important cleaning issues are currently affecting the healthcare market?
I would say being ready for whatever is thrust upon us: Pandemic influenza, avian bird flu, Clostridium difficile, Noro-virus, antibiotic resistant micro-organism such as MRSA, the list goes on.

Cleaning is a tough job and it requires proper

staffing levels, training resources, and on-going development. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Most people don’t think about the cleaning professional or the cleaning staff until there is a problem.

CP: Cross-contamination is typically considered a healthcare cleaning procedure. How can it be applied to commercial environments?
Cross-contamination is an issue no matter where or what you are cleaning or what is being cleaned. It’s an issue even in your own kitchen. I am such a fanatic about it, my family thought I was a head case; until one of them contracted salmonella. I was out of town and couldn’t clean up in proper fashion and it got passed on to others in the family.

Cleaning is a science. Knowing what to do, how to do it, for how long and with what product. Done properly you are cleaning for health and hygiene, for patients, visitors, other clients and family. Cross-contamination should be a major concern in the cleaning profession. Using the same mop or textiles in restrooms and then using them in the kitchen should be a concern to everyone providing professional cleaning services.

CP: Contract cleaning companies are sponsors of ASHES. What is the role of a sponsor and how do BSCs get involved?
All of ASHES sponsors support ASHES programs, services and strategic plan. Some of our sponsorships are monetary, others in kind and time, still others in knowledge exchange. Regardless of the type of sponsor, we are working toward the same goal — being serious about cleaning for health and hygiene wherever healthcare services are delivered. It’s a team effort and we are grateful to all of our sponsors for their commitment and support of the profession. ASHES members are also extraordinarily loyal to the companies that support ASHES and its work.

However, no one is excluded from being involved with ASHES, as a member or a sponsor. Non-members are welcome if they are serious about the business of disinfection in the healthcare environment and not just breaking into a market to increase margins.