There are more than 330,000 people in Australia living in aged care homes, and as you can imagine, with that number comes a considerable amount of laundry. Unfortunately, the older we are, the more susceptible we can be to different types of illness and infection. As such, infection prevention and control are crucial aspects of care. They are also the duty of all those who provide care.
Providing this prevention and care to the elderly is complex, so a starting point can be helpful. Washing bed sheets, towels and other linen is an essential aspect of good hygiene, but it’s not as simple as putting the sheets in a cold wash and hanging them out to dry. That’s where laundry education on infection control in aged care laundry facilities is crucial. The following article provides all the information you need to ensure your aged care laundry is not only operating efficiently but it’s also keeping residents, employees and visitors as safe as possible. Here’s what you need to know.
Common Illnesses Passed Through Aged Care Facilities
Infections can spread anywhere; they don’t discriminate. However, in aged care, the risk of illness and infection is much higher. Astonishing research by the University of South Australia attests to this, with four in five aged care residents found to be at risk of serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19. But it’s not just COVID-19 we need to be concerned about and there are a number of other common illnesses that are passed through aged care facilities at alarming rates for two reasons:
- Elderly people have a lower immune system, and
- Improper hygiene practices
The following are some of the most common infections and illnesses found in Aged Care facilities:
- Respiratory Infections – Infections of the upper and lower respiratory tracts are particularly common, including influenza – the flu.
- Pneumonia – In Australia, there are more than 77,500 pneumonia hospitalisations every year and worryingly, research has found that the mortality rate of pneumonia for the elderly is 20%.
- Urinary Tract Infections – The most common cause is Escherichia coli (E. coli), however, there are other organisms like Enterococci and Staphylococci that are also widespread in aged care facilities.
- Gastroenteritis – Gastroenteritis, or gastro, is a viral infection, and it is spread very easily through vomit or faeces, person to person contact, touching contaminated objects (such as bedding) or sharing food and drinks.
- Skin and Soft Tissue Infections – As we age, our skin changes and we become more susceptible to infections, such as cellulitis, necrotising fasciitis, and erysipelas. Chronic wound infections, such as ulcers and diabetic wounds, may also be prevalent, along with intertrigo, tinea, herpes zoster (shingles), herpes simplex, and scabies.
Infection Control Process When Dealing with Laundry Items
When working in aged care, preventing the spread of the above listed ailments is crucial. A single case of gastro that was perhaps caught from a visiting family member or an outing, can quickly spread throughout a facility. It’s crucial that you get on top of any cases or outbreaks as soon as possible. To aid in both prevention and infection control, it is necessary to arm your staff with laundry education so they can be across the Australian Laundry Standards as well as know how to run the laundry most efficiently.
Here’s what you need to know.
How To Safely Handle Soiled Linen and Clothing
First, as a carer you need to look after yourself, which is where laundry education is most crucial. To minimise risk when handling soiled linen and clothing, you must wear gloves at all times. If, in fact, there is a great risk of contamination from faeces, vomit or spit, you may even require full personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks or face shields, goggles and gowns.
Soiled linen and clothing should be removed as soon as possible from the resident’s body, bed and room, and put straight into a leak-proof plastic bag or collection bag. Take it straight to the laundry room – changing as few hands as possible and either store it in a dry area on its own ready for collection, or if the laundry is on-site, put it straight into a hot wash. As soon as this is done, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
To effectively disinfect soiled linen and clothing, you need to ensure the wash cycle is a minimum of 65°C for 10 minutes or at a minimum of 71°C for no less than 3 minutes – according to AS/NZS 4146:2000. A higher temperature for longer is always ideal. You also need to make sure you use the right chemicals.
Quality Detergents and Antibacterial Washes
According to the US-based Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, a chlorine bleach is the most efficient method to eliminate bacteria during the laundry cycle. And this is usually followed by souring with acid or laundry liquid.
It’s important to remember that general laundry detergent is great at making linen clean, but it doesn’t kill bacteria. Using detergent that has surfactants will help clean your clothes and remove some germs (particularly in a hot wash), but you should also choose a detergent that has bleach in it – this will also kill bacteria in a low wash. There are also specific antibacterial rinse aids you can add to the wash to help remove germs in cold water.
Having the right detergent won’t make matter if you don’t have the right machines. Quality washing machines make all the difference in an Aged Care laundry.
The Australian Standards AS/NZS 4146:2000 Laundry details numerous policies that ensure Aged Care facilities provide the best possible care and hygiene. These guidelines dictate the types of washing machines that are required in order to follow through on these standards. To start with, your machine needs to have an inbuilt heating element for Thermal Disinfection, among other features. Although not specified in the standards, it is important to consider the most suitable sizes of commercial washers and dryers for your facility and the number of residents. Aqualogic always recommends having a range of sizes, as there will always be loads of different sizes. For example, bed linen will always be a larger sized load, however you also need to consider how often these loads are being processed and the size of your laundry and budget. Having a large machine that only gets used once a day, and otherwise sits there all day not being used because there are no other loads that fill to capacity, is a waste of space and waste of investment. Having smaller machines that are going to get used all the time would be a much better option, especially for those pressed for space and budget. Talk to Aqualogic and we will be able to come up with a custom solution that is perfect for your facility.
How to comply with AS/NZS 4146
AS/NZS 4146 is the Australian Standard for Laundry Practices. It has long been the key reference source for determining acceptable standards of service and compliance in the laundry industry. Its purpose is to give Healthcare Operated Laundries, Linen Services, and their customers a standardised reference for acceptable laundry performance in the healthcare setting. You can read more about it here and if you want to find out more about how we can help you attain the right standards, get in touch with our team to discuss. Two of the ways in which we can assist are thermal and chemical disinfection. Here’s a little more about these:
Thermal disinfection relies on moist heat to kill bacteria and viruses after they have been exposed for a specified amount of time to a minimum temperature of 65°C. This ensures that all of the surfaces and crevices of the machine and linen in the washer are disinfected. The high temperature damages the proteins in viruses and bacteria, killing them. We have a range of washing systems that can provide this type of heat for effective disinfection.
Chemical disinfection is achieved by dissolving a disinfectant in water and allowing it to react with organic debris and microorganisms in the solution. Disinfectants work by dissolving the bacteria’s cell walls or interfering with their metabolism. Alcohol, chlorine and chlorine compounds, formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, iodophors, peracetic acid, and other chemicals are all employed in this process, among other things. We work with chemical providers who can set up our high-quality commercial washing machines for automatic dosing and optimal programming. This means you won’t even have to think about what chemicals and how much to put in. Even better, having your machine programmed correctly means that different chemicals are released depending on the selected cycle. This ensures your linens are effectively cleaned and looked after, as it is customised to different fabrics and levels of contamination.
Why Aqualogic Is Best for Aged Care Laundry Facilities
Aqualogic has a range of machines and dryers that are specifically designed to help improve health and safety in aged care facilities. We provide a number of commercial washing machine options for any commercial, industrial or on-premise laundry. Whatever the requirements of your aged care laundry facilities, we can assist.
Aqualogic Washing Machines
At Aqualogic, we have two machine brands that we trust to provide you with premium commercial washing. Sizes start at 6.5kg and extend to 295kg and these machines are built for efficiency under pressure. Our IPSO commercial washing machines are backed by the world’s number one manufacturer of commercial laundry products, Alliance Laundry Systems. IPSO washing machines can take loads of up to 60kg. We provide the Milnor brand for larger industrial level washing, which includes both hard and soft mount washers.
With washing also comes drying and Aqualogic also provides IPSO and Milnor dryers, starting at 8.2kg through to 250kg load capacity.
If you’re after durable, quality washing machines and dryers for your aged care facility, you can count on Aqualogic. We have been in the laundry industry for over 50 years – we’re reliable and only supply premium laundry equipment made by the best manufacturers in the business. Get in touch with our team today to find out more about how we can help you with infection control in aged care laundry facilities. We offer various payment options, including equipment loans, operating loans and rental packages.