How can hospitals reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections — and what does flooring have to do with it?
By Bill Imhoff , President & Chief Executive Officer at Intertech Flooring / W.E. Imhoff Inc.
The mandate for hospital infection control has never been more pronounced than today. Hospitals are facing unprecedented challenges: treating a pandemic that is highly contagious while providing a safe, infection-free care environment for non-COVID-19 patients, hospital staff and visitors as they are allowed to return.
There’s been lots of focus on controlling the airborne spread of contagions. But hospitals would be wise to look underfoot as well. The fact is that a hospital’s flooring choices can have a direct impact on its ability to mitigate hospital-acquired infections (HAIs).
Why hospital floors contribute to infection
Long before COVID-19, researchers identified floors as a key potential contributor to hospital-acquired infections. A 2017 study published in the American Journal of Infection Control said hospital room floors may be an overlooked source of infection. It also noted that “pathogens on hospital floors can rapidly move to the hands and high-touch surfaces throughout a hospital room.”
Ultimately, the researchers concluded that floors aren’t always a focus of disinfection efforts because they aren’t considered high-touch surfaces — but nonetheless, floors are an “underappreciated source for dissemination of pathogens.”
The value of evidence-based hospital flooring
Hospital facility managers must balance many needs when choosing the best flooring for a new or remodeled healthcare facility. Among them: reducing the risk of slips and falls, masking hallway noise, providing cushioning to reduce staff fatigue, incorporating colors and designs that enhance wayfinding, and minimizing VOC emissions. But paramount among the needs is reducing the risk of hospital-acquired infections.
A study on evidence-based design practices in hospitals commissioned by The Center for Health Design’s (CHD) Research Coalition noted that hospitals should not use carpet in areas where spills are common, or where airborne pathogens are most dangerous. It also noted the effectiveness of using nonporous and impermeable flooring and techniques such as coving in right-angled joints between the floor and the wall.
The worst flooring for bacteria mitigation
Choosing the wrong flooring solution for healthcare facilities can help the spread of bacteria, according to Cleaning and Maintenance Management magazine. Notably, there are a number of products and applications to avoid:
- Anything with grout or seams. Whether it is a tile, vinyl or other product, grouts and seams can become a breeding ground for dirt and pathogens. While they may be beautiful, they aren’t a healthy option for patient care environments.
- Unsealed or porous products. Unsealed concrete or tile (also with grout) absorbs liquids and dirt, making for an inviting environment for bacteria, the magazine notes.
Three proven products to help control infection
Seamless, sealed and impermeable flooring products enable hospital environmental services staff to easily sanitize and maintain them, thus reducing the growth and spread of harmful bacteria. And as a bonus, they are also long-lasting and beautiful, and they stand up to heavy traffic. Three proven options are resinous, vinyl and rubber flooring. Here’s a look at each.
Seamless resinous flooring is a popular option for facilities seeking to maintain a safe and sterile environment. Resinous floor coatings are 100% seamless, impermeable, and impact and chemical resistant, and they offer 24/7 antimicrobial protection.
The antimicrobial coating is blended directly into the base resin, inhibiting the growth of bacteria that can cause product degradation, discoloration and odors. In addition to the antimicrobial protection, resinous floors have low VOC and low odor at installation, contributing to improved air quality.
Solid vinyl tile is another attractive, infection-fighting option. Sheet vinyl is a continuous roll of vinyl flooring with a built-in antimicrobial barrier. Long-lasting and pre-coated means there’s less maintenance needed than other options on the market. Its heat-welded seams with flash coving prevent fluids from penetrating the surface and make it impervious to germs.
Another popular antimicrobial option is rubber flooring. There’s a good reason these floors are often seen in fitness centers, too. Their dense, watertight, nonporous surface helps repel germs and gives them little to no opportunity to propagate. Your floor becomes naturally resistant to bacteria, fungi and microorganisms. This important feature promotes health and safety in healthcare facilities by helping to prevent infection.
Rubber flooring manufacturers have expanded their product lines over the years, and designers can now choose from a wide range of texture and color combinations. It provides a safe and cushioned surface and is dimensionally stable, with a homogenous construction that is naturally resistant to damage from gouges and scuffs.
As hospitals seek to provide the highest quality of care to their patients, providing infection-free and infection-resistant environments is critical. Perhaps surprisingly, the choice of flooring can play an important role in the battle against bacteria.
Bill Imhoff is President/CEO of Intertech Flooring, leads three regional offices serving commercial clients across Texas and the Southwest.
This article was originally published in the Austin Business Journal July 14, 2020, and is used with permission The original blog can be accessed here. As an invited member of the Business Journal’s Leadership Trust, Bill provides thought-leadership content and advice to the Austin business community around his areas of expertise, including commercial flooring, entrepreneurship, leadership and workforce development.