Staying Safe: Infection Control In Rehabilitation Centers

posted Oct 25, 2016, 8:34 AM by Todd Fox   [ updated Oct 25, 2016, 8:39 AM ]

Infection control in rehabilitation centers and other alternative healthcare facilities is just as important as infection control in a conventional hospital setting. Because they tend to be high traffic institutions, with many transitory patients passing through on a daily basis, maintaining a clean environment for all members of staff, patients and visitors remains vital.               

A Setting that Poses its Own Unique Challenges

In rehabilitation facilities where individuals are receiving treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, healthcare professionals have to work within certain difficult parameters, such as not knowing whether their patients have recently taken either drugs or alcohol, and knowing that they are likely to lie about their consumption levels or their behaviors whilst under the influence. Why is this problematic for health care providers? Because addiction can lower your inhibitions and increase your likelihood to engage in risk taking behaviors that you would be unlikely to engage in without the influence of drugs or alcohol. In a recent study 51% of females under the age of 25 reported engaging in risky behaviors whilst under the influence: this can be as large as engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse with someone of unknown sexual history or as seemingly small as eating food that has been prepared in an unsanitary environment or not cooked properly. However both of these actions can lead to an increased risk of infection entering the facility environment, as they could cause embarrassing illness outbreak and lead to germs being spread in problem areas, such as bathrooms.

The Importance of Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene remains the most effective and least expensive measure that centers and facilities can adopt to prevent the transmission of pathogenic organisms in any healthcare setting, such as a hospital, rehabilitation or treatment center. Despite this knowledge about the importance of hand washing, compliance with good hand hygiene techniques remains dismal. In fact, an average of only 30%–50% of individuals regularly wash their hands and maintain good hand hygiene: it is predicted that this figure is lower amongst the addict community.                                     

Good hygiene is particularly important in rehabilitation facilities because chronic diarrhea is a very common symptom of drug withdrawal, particularly if substances like heroin, ketamine and dextromethorphan are withdrawn suddenly.  Fluid loss is a huge problem for individuals suffering from associated vomiting and diarrhea as a result of withdrawal, so it is important that their hydration levels and electrolyte intake remains high: this poses another logistical problem for rehabilitation health care providers, as they need to ensure they have drinking water situated in a way that is convenient for individuals that need regular bathroom access without increasing the likelihood of experiencing cross contamination. C. difficile, the bacteria and spores of which are found in feces, can be picked up from contaminated bathrooms and surfaces (such as doors or drinking fountains) and can cause potentially fatal infection, so it is important that exposure to this bacteria is reduced as much as possible.

Ask, Wash, Share

In order to keep infection and the spread of bacteria to a minimum, it is OK to ask clinicians, nurses and patients if they have washed their hands and to allow time for hand washing during appointments and treatment if necessary. Hand gel and other mobile sanitizers can be hugely useful in these circumstances, and having the products visible and available can help serve as a visual reminder of the importance of hand washing. Hand washing can even be used as a shared experience, and could be utilized as a way to begin group therapy and rehabilitation sessions (washing the hands both of the germs they contain and of the problems of the day). A huge 4% of hospital inpatients will acquire a Healthcare Associated Infection (HAI) as a result of their hospital or healthcare facility stay, and in the worst case scenarios these infections can prove fatal. That’s why it’s so important for clinicians and staff working within rehabilitation centers and other alternative health care facilities to practice good hand hygiene and take as many steps as possible to ensure infection control during the treatment of their patients.