Industry Experts Agree: Invest in EVS

June 23, 2023

Environmental Services (EVS) departments are not immune to the current tumultuous landscape in healthcare. Hospitals in the U.S. are under financial pressure, as well as pressure due to staffing shortages—all while recovering from the chaos caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthcare Purchasing News spoke with leading industry professionals about how the overall current landscape of the healthcare industry is affecting EVS departments, challenges, and solutions. They also shared their outlook for the future.

Strong teams keep patients safe

The importance of a strong EVS department should not be overlooked, stressed Doe Kley, MPH, RN, CIC, LTC-CIP, T-CHEST, principal infection preventionist for The Clorox Company. She said, “A strong EVS team is crucial when it comes to infection prevention and control—it is their job to eliminate the environment as a source of pathogen transmission. With the vast majority of pathogens being spread by contact with hands or surfaces, competent EVS teams are imperative to helping ensure patient safety.”

She added, “A high-functioning EVS team contributes to positive patient outcomes, such as reduced rates of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), including those caused by antimicrobial resistant (AMR) pathogens. Preventing AMR infections is crucial, as the antimicrobial pipeline is dry—we are not entering, rather, we are in the post-antimicrobial era. EVS teams keep patients, staff, and visitors safe. 

“While the CDC emphasizes hand hygiene, our hands can only be as clean as the environment around us. This makes EVS teams the first line of defense against the spread of pathogens and to safeguard patient environments—a vital and irreplaceable role.” 

Steve Baiocchi, Chief Operating Officer at Steriliz largely agreed, he said, “EVS interacts and touches every single department in the hospital. Having a strong team can help improve and sustain the highest cleaning and safety protocol measures for protecting patients and staff against HAIs.” 

Aaron Engel, Vice President Business Development, Fresh-Aire UV, added, “The truth of the matter is that the maintenance and engineering of facility staff are, in our perspective, just as important [as clinical staff] and sometimes there's a disconnect between what's happening in the walls. Walls, meaning inside the facility—the nature of the HVAC equipment, ductwork, air recirculation—that's taking place within a healthcare facility. Sometimes it is as if the walls are not aligned.” 

Engel added that what his organization finds even more important is discussion between the EVS team and other teams, like infection prevention, and engineering personnel, so they have a better understanding of what is happening outside and inside their buildings. 

Continued education is key

Maryalice StClair, CEO at Halosil International, mentioned that a strong team needs to be educated on best practices, she said, “It’s important that people [in EVS departments] understand the rules, the regulations, and how best to use my company’s products.”

StClair also stressed the importance of continued education, she said, “I think that continued education of staff is money well spent, because the more educated the staff is, the more they’re going to be able to make decisions and realize that just skipping a step here or there might not be the right thing. Or taking a shortcut might, in the long run, not be the right thing to do. I think that EVS has done a great job in terms of education in the past few years—they’ve put an emphasis on accreditation and ensuring everyone on the team is more aware of infections.”

The Clorox Company’s Kley commented, “Unfortunately, EVS departments continue to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic. Staff turnover continues to persist, leaving many EVS departments short-staffed and the remaining employees burnt out. These staffing challenges have had a domino effect—from impacting healthcare facilities’ ability to successfully execute cleaning and disinfecting protocols, to training gaps for new employees, given time constraints.

To help EVS teams, it’s important to address training gaps. Research has shown access to quality education and training increases staff retention. CloroxPro recently launched CloroxPro HealthyClean Introduction to Healthcare. Including only what busy EVS professionals need to know, this 20-minute module addresses both the need and nuances of cleaning and disinfecting in healthcare settings. This module is part of the larger CloroxPro HealthyClean training program, which offers the only industry-wide certificate program designed for frontline cleaners and managers accredited by American National Standards Institute National Accreditation.”

Perpetual improvement

Fresh-Aire UV’s Engel also mentioned staffing issues and budgets as one of the biggest challenges EVS departments are facing, but advancements in technology can help. He said, “Personnel has been an issue for the past two years or so. Budgets have always been an issue. So, it's really about trying to address needs while working within the confines of staff shortages and budget limitations.”

Engle went on to explain that UV disinfection systems are a technology that can almost be considered, “install it and forget it.” A lot of cleaning is labor-intensive and requires a lot of downtime that cuts into the operation but with UV disinfection, there’s no labor required as far as operation.

Sterliz’s Baiocchi agreed that implementing solutions to combat continued labor shortages is key. He said, “Fixed-mount UVC cleaning systems are simple to operate, and they are designed to provide rapid disinfection of a procedure or operating room in under two minutes, resulting in zero downtime between cases. Full-time EVS staff can attend to other things while the system rapidly disinfects a room for harmful pathogens, including viruses and bacteria.”

The Clorox Company’s Kley highlighted that EVS teams are starting to get the recognition they deserve, she said, “One improvement seen in the EVS space is the heightened awareness of the importance of not only hand hygiene, but also environmental cleaning and disinfection. This has been coupled with the recognition of the instrumental role EVS teams play in achieving healthcare facilities’ goals of safeguarding the patient environment. The pandemic put a spotlight on the complexity and vitalness of EVS team jobs, and it has been warming to see this understanding continue. As a result of this, facilities have begun to make efforts to better prioritize the self-care of their staff.”

“Moreover, during the pandemic, there was little time for oversight and workers tended to drift from their standard cleaning and disinfecting protocols,” She stated. “However, we have seen healthcare facilities begin to reassess and ensure everyone is executing their cleaning and disinfecting protocols safely, effectively and efficiently.”

As for the future, Halosil International’s StClair said, “I think that there'll be renewed interest in combating HAIs. I think that the people's eyeballs really came off of the traditional offenders [due to the COVID-19 pandemic]—hospitals being penalized for by having too much C. difficile, too many surgical-site infections, things that are attributed to disinfection and environmental cleanliness. I think as focus comes back on those things and numbers come out, it'll be interesting to see what happened and what is happening post-COVID.”

The Clorox Company’s Kley stated, “Healthcare facilities and their respective EVS teams understand the need to be prepared for the next pathogen or pandemic. This means healthcare facilities need to address staff turnover and burnout, and invest in their EVS staff, particularly through training. Training not only helps retain staff, but also ensures that they have the knowledge and skills they need to clean effectively and efficiently long-term. Additionally, EVS now recognizes the importance of a horizontal approach to killing pathogens on surfaces, rather than the single-pathogen approach taken during the pandemic.”

“EVS work is incredibly important, life-saving work, and healthcare facilities must continue to recognize this through active investments in education/training and high-quality products to improve the future of the EVS landscape, and to continue to keep the people in their buildings safe,” she concluded.        

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