WILMINGTON, Mass. — If you want to see a sickly expression on a hospital administrator’s face, point out that the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID) says hospital-acquired infections cause more than $30 billion a year in needless healthcare-industry overhead which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conservatively reflects 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths annually.
Since many infections can be traced to contaminated apparel, RID notes a partial “cure” for such unwanted costs can be found by providing medical staffs with hygienically laundered uniforms, vs. having them purchase, launder and maintain their own apparel, reports UniFirst, a supplier of uniforms and work apparel programs to businesses throughout the United States and Canada.
Infectious bacteria routinely hitchhike on the lab coats and scrubs of medical personnel who interact with patients, explains Dr. Charles P. Gerba, a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona. For many hours, “those bacteria can still be alive and passed on through incidental contact with other patients,” he says. And, according to a University of Maryland study, 65% of hospital personnel only change their lab coats weekly and 15% monthly.
“Medical staffs have demanding schedules and doing their laundry in a hygienic manner may be difficult for them,” says UniFirst’s Adam Soreff. “That’s why specialized uniform-rental services make sense.”
Such services use self-sanitizing, EPA-approved wash formulas and handling procedures developed for healthcare workers that are designed to produce a longer lasting, sanitized cleanliness that can’t be achieved with home laundering.
Pickups, deliveries, automatic repairs and replacements are part of the service that, Soreff says, “costs less than a daily cup of coffee per wearer.” In contrast, RID notes the average cost to cure just one infection is $15,275—a figure that translates into more than 7,000 changes of rental lab coats or scrubs.
It’s well past time for hospitals to provide laundered uniforms for their staffs, says Betsy McCaughey, RID’s chairwoman, particularly since hospital-acquired infections kill more people annually in the U.S. than AIDS, breast cancer, and auto accidents combined.