Proper hygiene and cleanliness are basic requirements for good health. Even as kids, we were taught that. Now, working as a caregiver, we level up this approach to health in three areas: personal, patient, and environmental hygiene.
Why do we need to step up our game on cleanliness? The concept is pretty simple. Where there is dirt, moisture, warmth, and foul smell, microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites thrive and multiply. These microorganisms cause disease. Patients have weakened immune systems and become perfect victims for infections because they are physically vulnerable. They can become even sicker or ill with another disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), or infections a patient gets in the hospital or other healthcare settings, is a huge problem. On any given day, about 1 in 31 patients acquire HAIs. Looking at the bigger picture, the CDC also reports that in 2015, there were around 687,000 cases of HAIs in acute care hospitals and that 72,000 of these patients died during hospitalization.
What do these figures tell us? Infections are real and scary, but caregivers can do a lot to lower these depressing numbers by being champions of hygiene. Keeping everything clean and sanitized can go a long, long way to promote health and prevent infections for both you and your patient.
How can a caregiver help in this regard?
1. Bathe before going to work.
It is the most basic hygiene practice that can decrease microorganisms we carry around and transfer to patients. Keep your hair neatly tied back, if possible. Trim your nails regularly and clean under them when you bathe or wash your hands.
2. Wear fresh and clean uniforms.
Always have a spare set in your locker or car, in case your uniform gets soiled while on duty. Also, work shoes should ideally be used only within the workplace and not worn outside. Sanitize your shoes regularly.
3. Practice proper handwashing techniques.
Your hands touch a lot of things every day, and while they may look and feel clean, they really aren’t—unless you wash them thoroughly. Hands are the perfect vehicle to carry germs around, so wash your hands before and after every procedure and when going from patient to patient.
4. Clean equipment that you typically bring with you.
Do you use a fanny pack to carry around your stuff? That would need regular washing and cleaning, too. Same goes for the things inside, such as thermometers, pens, scissors, and safety pins.
1. Bathe patients regularly and help them put on a fresh set of clothes.
As discussed, this is basic procedure to decrease the number of microorganisms on the patient’s body.
2. Encourage your patients to wash their hands after every use of the toilet, bedpan or urinal, and every time they touch dirty things and soiled clothes.
Remind them that anything that falls on the floor is considered dirty and should be sanitized or thrown away.
3. Keep hand sanitizer handy.
For some patients, going to the sink to wash their hands is too tiring, so have hand sanitizer within easy reach. Teach them to drop a dime-sized amount of the sanitizer in a palm and rub the sanitizer, covering all surfaces of their hands and fingers until the hands feel dry.
4. Perform grooming measures.
Comb your patient’s hair, trim nails, and help them perform mouth care.
5. If your patient is an wearing incontinence pad and undergarment, change them immediately after they are soiled.
Be sure to wash and dry the genital area and the buttocks before replacing the pads. If they accidentally soiled their clothes, they need a fresh change as well.
1. Practice “cleaning as you go.”
When preparing your patient's food, immediately throw away vegetable peels and food packaging that will not be used anymore. Wash their trays, plates, and utensils immediately after use.
2. Leftover foods should not stay on the table for longer than two hours.
If a patient cannot finish a portion, store it in a sealed container in the fridge. Any leftovers in the refrigerator should be thrown away after three days of storage.
3. Change bed sheets regularly and every time they are soiled.
Do not pile the sheets on the floor to be picked up at a later time. Put them in a hamper and take them away immediately.
4. Sanitize surfaces according to agency procedures.
These surfaces include floors, toilets, sinks, countertops, urinals, bedpans, equipment, doorknobs, and even the computer keyboards and telephone units.
5. Do not let trash or leftover food collect on the bedside table.
Throw trash in the right garbage bin and dispose of garbage properly.
Being hygienic in all aspects of providing care is a must for caregivers. Other than preventing infections, it is also a reflection of your overall attitude to your work environment and your patients. It’s ok to be a neat freak sometimes, especially when it ensures patient health and proper care!
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