Scented products can actually cause as many problems as the odors they are meant to remove or mask. For example, Mercy Hospital Springfield hasn’t received many odor complaints during Green’s six-year tenure. One of the few problems that did arise, he says, was a guest who had a negative reaction to a strong fragrance in the odor-control dispenser in a restroom.

Although using fragrances can be helpful in odor control, the key is choosing light, fresh scents.

“People like fragrances,” Moffatt says. “Lavender is popular in our facility.”

It’s also important to not mix too many scents within one building.

“Combining too many just smells worse than the original odor,” Bristol says.

When she started at Divine Savior, Bristol found that there were many different fragrances being used throughout the facilities because staff would bring in their own. She stopped that practice, and now her department supplies air fresheners to nurses, receptionists and all other personnel.

“There are so many odors that bother people, so now we control what’s used,” Bristol says. “It required a lot of education, but everybody was very receptive to it.”

Soon the facility had switched from vanilla-scented products, which irritated many people, to a fresh orange scent after conducting surveys. The change proved to be well received by building occupants and better at removing odors. 

Cleaning Is Key

When it comes to odor management, one of the biggest mistakes many healthcare facilities make is thinking a scented device will take care of any problems.

“My thought on odor control is if it’s clean, you don’t need a dispenser,” Green says. “Trying to mask a foul odor isn’t going to solve it. You have to find where it’s coming from and clean properly.”

Odor control starts with a proper cleaning routine, which includes regular maintenance of everything from carpet and furniture to restroom fixtures and floors.

“You can’t rely on cleaning surfaces as they become soiled. You have to do preventative cleaning,” Moffatt says. “We encourage people to let us know if an accident that may cause an odor happens, but if someone forgets or is too embarrassed to tell us, we want to be proactive versus reactive.”

Although it’s not enough to wait for service calls to come in, it is important to make cleaning a facility-wide effort, Bristol adds. At Divine Savior, physical therapy staff are required to wipe down machines after each patient, aides must clean tables between patients, and X-ray technicians are trained to clean their equipment.

“We’re not the only ones responsible for keeping the facility clean — everybody is,” Bristol says. “We don’t really have an issue with odors and I attribute that to my staff being diligent about taking care of situations as they happen, and the rest of the staff helping with regular cleaning and notifying us as other problems come up.”

Creating a comprehensive odor-management program that includes regular cleaning procedures and supplemental fragrance products allows healthcare facilities to be remembered for their work, not a smell.

“Get out there as the leader of your department and look at it from the customer’s point of view,” Green says. “What does the customer see and smell? You have to stay ahead of it. The minute you let it go, you’ll have an issue.” 

BECKY MOLLENKAMP is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.

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Healthcare Odor Hot Spots