ROANOKE, Va. — I once wrote about having an opportunity to use reusable barrier isolation gowns in all the hospitals that comprise the Carilion Clinic. The ability to start such a program was rewarding after having failed to gain approval over the previous seven years.
My first experience with reusable barrier gowns, at Aurora Healthcare in Milwaukee, was the result of the then-new OSHA bloodborne pathogens guidelines. The program was extremely successful, and we were able to develop a special wash formula with the use of a Sutter Hydrostatic tester.
We knew that the wash formula would need to be different than for any other product washed because the barrier gowns didn’t sequester any chemicals placed in the washer. They all stayed in solution and were available to react with any soil present.
We also knew that residual surfactant on the gown would reduce its barrier properties. The Sutter Hydrostatic tester gave us immediate feedback on how the wash formula was working and provided easily repeatable results. We had tried sending samples of linen to an outside laboratory for testing, but it often took 7-10 days to get results. If there was a problem, we wanted to know about it now, not several weeks down the road.
When I became the director of linen services at Carilion, I wanted to introduce reusable barrier isolation gowns to help save the hospitals money and to increase the laundry’s value. I approached the infection control department at our largest facility and was told it could not support such a program for several reasons:
Staff would try to wear a reusable isolation gown multiple times during a day
Staff would wear the reusable isolation gowns outside to smoke (thus presenting a poor appearance)
The laundry would not be able to keep up with the volume
The laundry staff would have greater exposure to infectious diseases
The distribution system would be difficult to manage
There were quality-control concerns
I laid out my best counter arguments but simply could not make any headway. I knew that, eventually, outside events would provide me with an opportunity to provide this type of product.
Opportunity for Introduction
The use of disposable isolation gowns worldwide went through the roof due to the H1N1 virus and most users were put on a quota system based on previous orders. This supply-chain problem, combined with nurses’ disgust in the amount of trash they were generating every day, created the opportunity to make another pitch for reusable gowns.
A supply chain consultant had proposed the reusable barrier isolation gown project the previous year but it had not been given serious consideration.
My goal, and that of nursing, was to establish a pilot study for the gowns on a few select high-use areas to see if the product and the proposed packaging system were workable. We wanted to test end-users’ reaction to the product in comparison to disposables.
Monday: Product packaging and distribution design...