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Where are the infection hot spots in your community?

By Bob Kerin, Facilities Management Specialist, Sodexo Seniors

 

All surfaces are not equal 

Any surface exposed to people and the germs they carry is a potential breeding ground for infections.  

But not all surfaces are created equal. In our senior living communities, COVID may be the hot topic of the year.  However, every year we combat norovirus and influenza, not to mention the healthcare-related superbugs like c. diff. and MRSA.  Do you know which surfaces are most susceptible to harboring these unseen agents of illness?

Brooke Hossfeld, Infection Prevention Specialist Sodexo Healthcare, says that "the biggest challenge communities face are how the environment has been designed – such as common areas where residents congregate or their use of shared equipment (for example, in physical therapy rooms), which can become reservoirs harboring bacteria and viruses. There are also fixed design elements, such as common routes to the dining location with many people using the same rail – increasing the risk of virus transmission. The public, social nature of communities makes it very easy for illness to quickly spread from person to person."   

Different surfaces – such as glass, metal and plastic – can all harbor bacteria and viruses and frequently need to be disinfected.  Exposure to only a few active viral particles of COVID-19 or influenza can potentially cause illness (particularly for the elderly, who often have health challenges) – and studies show that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for up to two weeks.  Some furniture or equipment surfaces can become pitted or cracked (such as plastic after years of cleaning). This corrosion can act as a reservoir for germs and can become nearly impossible to 100% disinfect.   

As Hossfeld further shares, "When assessing risk, it's important to look at the macro-environment and the micro-environment. Macro means the rooms, walls, floors, guard rails, bathrooms – anywhere that is a common space and/or high-traffic area. Micro refers to anything within the macro environment – such as furniture, equipment, etc. Targeting your disinfection measures to where they're needed most, in addition to ongoing staff and resident education, is essential to keeping a community safe and healthy." 

But before you can target effectively, you have to know where the infection hot spots are and what risk they pose to the people within your community. For example, compare the risk of a very active receptionist area to the activity of the nurses' station on a floor that may be only partially occupied. Is the doorknob to a resident's room higher or lower risk than a doorknob to the hall bathroom?  

A risk assessment audit designed by infection control experts, can help maximize your resources by giving attention to the most important areas of risk in the building. The objective of a risk matrix is to guide you in identifying infection risk areas and putting a focused action plan into place. 

 

Beyond disinfectant 

A risk matrix informed by medical experts and epidemiologists, along with a sizeable sample of industry benchmarks, provides the ability to identify and develop best practices as well as evaluate products and design procedures intended to keep seniors and the staff who serve them safe from a range of serious infections 

Although there are many viruses that require proactive preventative measures, COVID-19 put a spotlight on the importance of robust infection prevention and the thoroughness of disinfection methods.  

Many communities are now seeking to audit their environment to evaluate risk and improve infection prevention performance. A specific example is Clark-Lindsey Village, a senior living community in Champaign, Ill. "Communities such as Clark-Lindsey Village are looking for support in understanding  whether their facility is following industry standards. They want to know where they are potentially falling short or even overperforming," says Nick Richardson, a Sodexo district manager. 

Sodexo implemented its infection prevention solution, which includes risk assessment audit. The assessment provided guidance, tools and data to help Clark-Lindsay Village have a clear audit of the risk areas within its community and adjust its disinfection approach to more effectively reduce the potential for virus spread, thus better protecting the community. 

 

Assessing real risk, in real-time 

Although risk assessment tools have already been adopted in other aspects of business operations, such as security, the pandemic has helped accelerate their use in addressing infection prevention 

Using a tablet equipped with specialized software developed by Sodexo's experts in disease mitigation, Richardson methodically reviewed the various areas of the Clark-Lindsey community, keeping a critical eye on potential hot spots identified from Sodexo's benchmark data across many communities nationwide. He pinpointed risk areas and assessed their severity, ranging from high to medium to low.  

For example, how did visitors sign in to the community? Were they able to stay 6-feet apart (low risk), or did they bottleneck at the entrance (high risk)? How were dishes stored in the dining area? Were they behind a counter and only available to the staff (lower risk), or were they stacked where residents could take them freely (higher risk)?  

"With the Risk Assessment Matrix, I was able to do the audit in real-time and see the data as it was being generated," says Richardson. "For instance, I saw magazines in the lobby area, input that information into the tablet and was able to assign it a risk. This is an example of where staff may have overlooked magazines as high risk. It's really hard to identify problem spots if you don't have something like this matrix to guide you. The matrix is a tool that gives real value to our clients. It lets us get into the fundamentals of risk identification, proactively, before those risks ever become an issue."

 

With the audit complete, Sodexo devised a detailed action plan and trained team members in reducing risks.  

 

More knowledge = More safety

As Benjamin Franklin once said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." 

Risk Assessment  gives your staff the knowledge they need to keep residents and employees safe—from COVID, the flu, norovirus and dozens of other infections prevalent in senior communities.  With improved data about your risks, communities can take mitigation action to address critical infection risk areas and target deep cleaning for the entire community's health.  

Request a complimentary consultation, or to learn more about how Sodexo Seniors can support your infection control and preventive disinfection needs.

March 18, 2021

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