The way in which microorganisms that cause HAIs (Healthcare Acquired Infections) are transferred throughout the patient care environment is multi-factorial. So, why talk about cubicle privacy curtains? Most research about the spread of HAIs focuses on hard surfaces like bed rails, side tables, countertops, and equipment. Fewer studies have been published that define the soft surfaces’ role, but it is clearly an important factor.

Let’s look at how standard cloth cubicle privacy curtains may contribute to the spread of HAIs.

Cloth is absorbent. Healthcare personnel, patients, and visitors frequently touch these curtains. Contaminated cloth means HAIs can potentially be transferred to the patient.

According to Pyrek (2018), a few studies compared hanging clean cloth cubicle privacy curtains in active patient rooms vs. rooms with no patient care (control). Curtains were left hanging for up to 12 weeks and swabbed for culturing at multiple time intervals and locations on the curtains. A 2018 study reported that, while the control curtains remained clean, the curtains in the patient rooms “became increasingly contaminated over time. By the fourteenth day, 87.5% of curtains tested positive for MRSA (methicillin- resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Researchers sampled areas where people primarily hold curtains, suggesting contamination resulted from direct touch” (Pyrek, 2018).

There is no consensus on how frequently to launder, change, or replace cloth curtains.

They say timing is everything, but in the case of changing cubicle privacy curtains in patient care areas, there is no consensus as to frequency. When asked, the most common response was “monthly” or “when visibly soiled.” Some policies may also include language to change curtains if the patient has a known antibiotic- resistant organism before admitting a new patient to that room. However, using the studies as a guide, monthly may be too long for cloth curtains to hang without changing.

Various operational decisions and costs arise when considering the magnitude of changing curtains every 14 days. In most hospitals, the primary task of removing and replacing curtains falls to Environmental Services (EVS). The laundering of fabric curtains may also be coordinated by EVS or linen services. The additional costs associated with this more frequent change policy negatively affect the total overall cost of cloth curtain ownership.

Cloth surfaces are difficult to clean.
Electrostatic sprayers have quickly become the norm for cleaning in many healthcare facilities. While cloth curtains often undergo this process, it is not ideal. Cloth absorbs the cleansing product leaving it wet for hours.

Time for Change
The good news is that today’s hospitals and healthcare systems now have options to help prevent the spread of HAIs. Many are now switching to non-fabric, disposable, and sometimes recyclable cubical privacy curtains. These curtains are often made from polypropylene, a material that has been established as cleanable using electrostatic sprayers and healthcare disinfectant wipes and sprays. The ability to “clean in place” is a critical factor for curtains which can extend hang time up to several months, depending on each manufacturer’s claims.

Why are Cloth Privacy Curtains Still Around?
Not all hospital providers are aware of the new options available nor understand how moving away from cloth can help mitigate the risk of transmission of organisms that cause HAIs.

Let’s Talk Money

Many moving parts are involved in any conversion of product and process. It can be done most effectively through a value analysis-based process. For example, the VA process considers critical variables for an informed decision, including:

  • Clinical evidence reviews
  • Data and information gathering
  • Analytics comparing the current and proposed cost of the product process
  • Post-implementation monitoring to assure the validity of the decision

Another primary consideration for the provider organization is the ease of adaptability of the disposable cubicle privacy curtain to their current cloth and rod system. Providers should look for a supplier with:

  • An all-in-one system that consists of disposable curtain panels with an attached, integral novel hanging system
  • To be cost-effective, the new system should adapt to the current track system and improve staff safety
  • A system that does not require a ladder to change the curtains can reduce the total time and FTE effort in the curtain-changing process

A sampling of the other key high-level criteria in assessing the cubicle privacy curtain product and process are count and cost associated with:

  • Number of current curtain panels in use and on-hand replacement stock
  • Assessment of the required disposable product and replacement stock based on equivalents
    • Frequency of change of cubicle privacy curtains current process vs. new process (includes number of FTE labor & average time to perform the tasks)
    • Laundering vs. disposable curtain costs
  • Cloth curtain weight, costs/pound to launder X total current exchanges vs. reduced disposable “clean in place” exchange frequency
    • Waste disposal costs of non-recyclable disposable curtains or recycling process options for recyclable disposable curtains
    • Sustainability effects of current vs. new products and processes

Make the Change
If you’re ready to provide a safer patient care environment and switch to a more sustainable, cleaner, cost-friendly savings solution, contact Bannack Medical® today for a free assessment of the Change Me Curtain® system. See the difference for yourself.

Pyrek, K. (2018, December 3). Hospital Privacy Curtains and Bed Sheets: Soft Surface Contamination and Transmission. Infection Control.

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