Washing Hands

In 2021, proper hand hygiene should be a given. The importance of thoroughly cleaned hands has been drilled into doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers for decades — and for good reason.

“Proper hand hygiene is crucial in reducing healthcare acquired infections (HAIs) in a healthcare setting,” says Michael Patterson, MNA, MESRE, executive director, IEHA, Westerville, Ohio. “Hands come in contact with many intermediate objects that may be infectious, especially in patient care areas. Proper handwashing and sanitizing is key to reducing HAIs.”

The Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare agrees. They found that increased handwashing compliance can be correlated to a decrease in HAIs.

In fact, handwashing and sanitizing is so important it even has its own holiday. The World Health Organization has designated May 5th as Hand Hygiene Day. It recognizes and celebrates the simple process of cleaning hands and its role in protecting healthcare workers and patients from infections.

Now, a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, handwashing and sanitizing is on everyone’s mind. And yet, barriers to proper hand hygiene in hospitals and other healthcare settings remain. These hurdles include poorly-placed hand sanitizing stations, supply-chain disruptions that complicate sourcing product and equipment, and chronic hand dryness from increased washing and sanitizing.

Here’s how cleaning professionals and facility managers are overcoming barriers to hand hygiene and keeping healthcare workers, patients and the general public safe.

Identify HAI Hotspots

Healthcare-acquired infections are no joke. The list of serious pathogens that can be spread from person-to-person via contaminated hands includes: MRSA, VRE, C.diff, COVID-19 and Norovirus.

“Thirty-five to 45 percent of HAIs can be attributed to unsanitary conditions, either on hands, surfaces or electronic devices that move from room to room,” says Darrel Hicks, an infection control consultant in St. Charles, Missouri.

One of the primary hotspots for HAIs, according to Hicks, is the patient’s bed, bedside tables and rails.

“I just read a study that said patient bed rails are touched around 256 times a day by caregivers, family members and patients,” he says. “And they are rarely disinfected. People think the restroom is the dirtiest place, but it’s really patient beds and the 36 inches around it.”

Another potential source of infection includes the nurses’ break room, according to Dr. Charles Gerba, professor of environmental science at the University of Arizona.

“The break rooms often are not cleaned as frequently as other areas,” he explains.

Still, there are plenty of other potential hotspots in a healthcare facility. Heavily-trafficked entrances, lobby areas, waiting rooms, nursing station desks, emergency rooms and anywhere food is served all pose a threat. Places people touch, like elevator buttons, light switches, sink taps, telephones and door knobs, represent even more HAI hotspots.

Proper hand hygiene — scrubbing with soap and water — works really well to stop the transfer of HAIs. Unfortunately, not every hotspot is near a sink to make handwashing convenient. That is why hand sanitizing stations play an important role in keeping HAI numbers down.

“People should always use soap and water if their hands are visibly soiled,” says Tami Bristol, environmental services (EVS) manager, Aspirus Divine Savior Hospital and Clinics, Portage, Wisconsin. “But if there is no time to wash your hands or there is no sink nearby, the sanitizer is the next best thing.”

Gerba goes one step further, noting that when possible, both washing and sanitizing is the optimal strategy. Doing so provides a safety net, as people often don’t wash their hands thoroughly enough, or for the recommended minimum of 20 seconds as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

next page of this article:
Key Locations For Hand Sanitizer Stations