Hospitals aim to provide the highest level of treatment and recovery by creating the best environment to facilitate care. This expectation is universally shared by both patients receiving care and the healthcare workers delivering it.
To achieve this, hospitals implement infection prevention and control measures through proper cleaning and handling of equipment, materials, and surfaces. However, patient privacy barriers are among the most important of these yet tend to get overlooked—it’s the elephant in the room.
Why are hospital curtains a threat to patients' wellbeing?
Most hospitals across the U.S. still use fabric cubicle curtains as privacy barriers in perioperative rooms, intensive care units, emergency rooms and others. The problem with privacy curtains is that they require regular cleaning and maintenance procedures, and this is where healthcare facilities fall short. In our experience, many hospitals lack the resources to address this, including:
- Privacy solutions that promote hygiene
- Staff and budget resources for proper cleaning procedures
- Alignment between Infection Prevention, EVS and care teams
Studies show, without proper care and maintenance, privacy curtains can become breeding places for bacteria. At the same time, data shows that the threat of Healthcare-Associated Infections (HAIs) is quite prevalent and can be very costly. We gathered nine key statistics from a handful of studies that reveal the risks of fabric hospital curtains.
1. 1 in 25 U.S hospital patients is diagnosed with an HAI
Healthcare-Associated Infections are diseases patients contract while still receiving treatment for other conditions. According to a CDC Winnable Battles report, one in every 25 patients in U.S hospitals is diagnosed with a hospital care-related infection annually. Many HAIs result from dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria and can further cause deterioration of a patient’s health and even lead to death.
Dirty and contaminated curtains serve as a habitat for bacteria and other pathogens. Unfortunately, as the study shows, only one-third of U.S healthcare facilities adhere to significant guidelines and requirements needed to regulate HAIs, with only 40% of hospitals putting in place essential hygiene measures.
2. Costs for treatment for HAIs reaches $45 billion
The challenges of cleaning and replacing curtains in hospitals can have widespread economic impacts on the operations of healthcare facilities. Treating and handling infections that spread as a result of contaminated privacy curtains is costly.
As the CDC reported in 2015, U.S hospitals spend an estimated $28.4 to $45 billion annually on treating HAIs. However, with proper medical practice and modern technology use, healthcare facilities can reduce the cost of treating HAIs by 20%.
3. 92% of curtains contaminated by bacteria within a week
A publication by the American Journal of Infection Control (AJIC) places privacy curtains at the center of most bacterial infections in hospitals. A longitudinal study performed on 43 curtains in hospitals over three weeks in 30 rooms, including 2 ICUs, found out that 12 in every 13 curtains (92%) were contaminated by bacteria within a week.
4. 95% of curtains contaminated by bacteria at least once
Further results published by the AJIC from the same study found that 41 of the 43 curtains (95%) were contaminated at least once for a three-week period. Considering this data, only 5% of patients in hospitals would be safe from exposure to HAIs caused by dirty hospital curtains.
5. 42% of curtains contaminated with VRE
The American Journal of Infection statistics also involved studies on the persistence of specific bacteria on curtains in the hospital. The research found out that 42% of the 43 curtains studied were contaminated with VRE, with 8 curtains showing VRE contamination on various occasions. Among the eight, three privacy curtains had a single persistent VRE type while five had different types, possibly due to recurrent contamination.
6. 21% of curtains contaminated with MRSA
The AJIC research also found that among the 43 curtains studied, 21% were determined to be contaminated by MRSA. MRSA bacteria are antibiotic-resistant and cause staph infection. They can live harmlessly on human skin but can become detrimental if they find their way into the human body. Due to their resistance to antibiotics, MRSA spreads faster in hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
7. Persistence of nosocomial pathogens on hospital fabrics
The prevalence of MRSA infections in healthcare facilities has been worsened by the presence of contaminated hospital surfaces, including floors, furniture, and cubicle curtains. Pathogens such as bacteria can survive on hospital fabrics for several days or even months.
A study published by The Eurasian Journal of Medicine shows that methicillin-sensitive and -resistant staphylococci could live for up to 90 days on different types of fabric. Additionally, the research outlined that wool, polyester, and acrylic provide a good harboring place for S. aureus.
8. Bacteria spread within 1 day of contamination
As outlined earlier, antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA and VRE stay on fabrics from 1 to 90 days. The survival of these organisms on hospital surfaces means they can be transferred as quickly as within one day, according to research by the Journal of Clinical Microbiology. Patients and health workers can easily transmit bacteria to other people within the health facility after coming in contact with contaminated surfaces.
9. 37% of hospitals only launder soiled curtains
According to a 2013 study published by the American Journal of Infection Control 37% of hospitals wait until their curtains are visibly soiled before cleaning them. Contaminated surfaces undermine the efforts of many healthcare facilities to control the spread of HAIs. To regulate the spread of HAIs, hospital hygiene must be prioritized.
How healthcare teams can reduce contamination in hospitals
Infection prevention and control should be the key focus of every healthcare facility. As evidenced above, fabric privacy curtains are breeding grounds for bacteria and are hard to keep clean, therefore, are major inhibitors to proper patient care.
Silentia privacy screens provide you with an alternative solution that protects your patients in the most efficient and economical way. Unlike fabric hospital curtains, our solid surfaces are easy to clean, instantly in the room, with typical disinfectants. Learn more about how Silentia can help your team decrease contamination risk and increase efficiency.