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Mac’s Safety Space: Linens in the ENT clinic

Q: We have been having a discussion about the linens in our ear, nose, and throat (ENT) clinic. This clinic has an esthetician who uses spa wraps and smocks on the patients. Wouldn’t these linens have to be laundered the same as the hospital, as our clinics are under our hospital accreditation and license?

Steve MacArthur: I guess the question I’d have at this point is how are those items being laundered at the moment? It is possible to do a low-temperature wash (<160 degrees F) if appropriate chemicals are used. I’m thinking that we’re generally not dealing with an immune-compromised patient population in this context and maybe a risk assessment and a blessing from Infection Control would suffice.

The other thought I had is to either go with disposable wraps and smocks or perhaps the patients could keep their smocks, maybe as a marketing strategy. As I think about it, is the esthetician providing services under the auspices of the hospital’s accreditation or is it more like when they have hairdressers come in for patients in long-term care, which is sort of like a concession? I think the place to start is finding out what’s happening currently and working from there.

I think a credible risk assessment under the guidance of IC should be able to address any concerns that might come up during survey. Strictly speaking, this probably functions as an offshoot of palliative homeopathic care. I think as long as you approach the whole process in a thoughtful, methodical way, the surveyors will only be impressed at the level of service you are providing to patients. The IC standards all revolve around assessing risk and implementing prudent strategies for managing those risks, so why should this be any different. In fact, the acid test would be for you to submit the question to the SIG—and I bet you’ll get the same “figure it out for yourself” answer.

Mac’s Safety Space: Joint Commission standards on mop and rag laundering

Q: We’re concerned about whether the way our mops and rags are laundered are up to Joint Commission standards. At this point, we’re laundering them ourselves in bleach in our washer. The temperatures are hot, but not 160 degrees. Are these mops and rags considered “linen” and do they have to be washed up to the same standards as the rest of the linen?

Steve MacArthur: The quick and dirty response (small pun intended) is that The Joint Commission has no standards relative to the processing of mops and rags, and even the CDC Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control make no specific mention of these items, and as far as a time and temperature equation (temperatures greater than 160 degrees F for more than 25 minutes), they indicate that that applies only when hot-water laundry cycles are used.

They do make chemical detergents for warm-water laundry cycles (less than 160 degrees), so that might be a consideration as well. That said, as they nominally do not come into contact with patients, I don’t think that there would be a compelling reason to consider mops and rags as “linen,” so they could probably tolerate a somewhat lesser level of sanitization, but what that level is would have to be determined.

A couple of things spring to mind. One avenue would be to contact the vendor from whom you obtain mops and see whether there are manufacturer recommendations for laundering the mops. The rags, unless you are purchasing them as a specific consumable, are probably the vestiges of patient linens past their usefulness in that context.

Not being sure what type of washing machine you are using for this process, it might be of value to consider the purchase of a commercial-grade washer. From personal experience, few things “kill” a household-grade washing machine faster than washing mops, particularly in bleach. Also, with a commercial washer, you can probably provide a sufficient time and temperature mix that would perhaps even suspend the need for bleach (bleach is no friend to fabric, I can tell you). Certainly the commercial route is an expensive start-up, but you can probably figure out whether the return on investment is worth it.