Indeed, changing staff’s mind-set can be one of the biggest challenges when implementing hand washing programs. Fortunately, ongoing education and training can help ease the transition, as well as make employees feel more comfortable about having their hand washing habits monitored.

“Initially, there was some apprehension [about hand washing initiatives] because it’s one more thing we’re watching,” says Kent Miller, director of environmental services at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “But they understand what it’s going to cost our organization in the long run if we don’t do proper hand hygiene. And it’s for the patient.”

Belton Regional Medical Center conducts annual training, which includes a skills lab demonstrating proper hand washing techniques.

“People don’t seem to mind being monitored because it’s become an expected thing, and everyone understands the importance of hand washing and sanitizing,” notes Ellsworth.

In addition to in-person demonstrations, employees must complete online training slides on hand washing and pass a quiz.

According to VanReeth, infection control and nursing leadership at Geisinger Health Systems is very much in favor of hand washing initiatives — although he admits that it can be challenging for managers to ensure that every last team member is motivated and fully compliant.

While educating staff is important for successful hand hygiene programs, some hospitals have found that educating patients can also motivate staff to comply.

“We teach patients that they have the right to ask,” says Couch. “And we teach our nurses that it’s okay for the patient to say they didn’t see you wash your hands. Instead of getting angry and saying you did it, just do it again.”

Similarly, Abrams educates staff to help them avoid responding negatively to patients’ hand washing requests.

“A lot of patients either don’t see us wash our hands or don’t realize we’re using hand sanitizer,” notes Abrams. “We encourage nurses that take care of patients to start the day with a script. For example, ‘Hi, my name’s Colleen, and I’m going to be your nurse for the day. Let me wash my hands before we do X.’ If a patient asks you to wash your hands, don’t argue with them. Just do it again. But you can avoid rewashing your hands if you use the script and tell them what you’re doing.”

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