Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a veterinary practice management consultant, speaker and adviser. She is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary Management University and continues to work in a small animal practice. She has over 35 years of experience in the veterinary field and brings her in-the-trenches experience directly to readers.Read Articles Written by Sandy Walsh
Virtually all businesses that are open to the public tout their enhanced cleaning protocols in light of the pandemic. We see it everywhere we go as customers. The veterinary profession is no exception. When it comes to personal safety, our clients and employees are more knowledgeable than ever. Infection control is essential and is more than just dealing with the messes we make or see. It’s about protecting the team, clients and patients. Defined procedures and protocols are necessary. It’s time to change our approach.
Cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing are not the same thing. Here are some definitions:
- Cleaning: Removing dirt or debris. It precedes disinfecting and sanitizing.
- Disinfecting: Killing microorganisms on a surface.
- Sanitizing: Reducing the level of bacteria.
- Pathogen: An infectious agent that causes disease in an organism.
- Contact time: The period that a surface must be visibly wet to achieve disinfection or sanitization.
Consider something that happens everyday in your practice, like removing fecal matter from a kennel or floor. What’s the next step? You must disinfect or sanitize to reduce the potential pathogen load. Choosing the right products and establishing procedures for the job at hand are essential.
Set Zones of Responsibility
Everyone on the veterinary team has a role and must have a clean-as-you-go mentality. It’s now time to clarify responsibilities and establish guidelines and protocols based on the department. Identifying work zones and assigning primary responsibility makes sense.
ZONE 1: CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVES
The team at the front desk makes sure all client areas are cleaned and maintained. For example:
- Waiting room: Seats, door handles and tables.
- Reception area: Counters, phones, keyboards, credit card terminals, and anything commonly touched by clients and employees.
ZONE 2: TECHNICIANS AND VETERINARY ASSISTANTS
Technician team members are primarily responsible for cleaning, stocking and maintaining patient areas. They should focus on:
- Exam rooms: Seats, floors, exam tables, door handles and any equipment or instruments commonly touched or handled by clients and employees.
- Treatment rooms: Cages, tables, counters, floors, diagnostic equipment and instruments.
- Laboratory: Equipment, counters and sink.
- Surgery suite: Tables, anesthetic machines, monitoring devices and instruments.
- Patient isolation ward: Cages, surfaces, supplies and instruments used, and the maintenance of personal protective equipment.
- Technicians’ area: Computer workstations and phones.
ZONE 3: PET CARE ATTENDANTS
These employees frequently have a hospital maintenance role in addition to caring for patients and boarded pets. They focus on:
- Kennels and cages: Clean and sanitize when soiled and between occupants.
- Laundry: Continuously.
- Food/water bowls: Clean and sanitize between use.
- Restrooms: Toilets, sinks, counters and floors.
- Hospital grounds: Parking lot, client walkways and animal relief areas.
- Trash: Empty bins throughout the day.
ZONE 4: VETERINARIANS
Doctors depend on the team for most of the general cleaning and sanitizing. They should take responsibility for:
- Stethoscope, scissors and other items they use and carry daily.
- Their desk, computer workstation and phone.
The leadership team doesn’t have a zone assignment but must administer the program. These leaders:
- Determine protocols and the products used.
- Establish zones and administer training programs.
- Clean and disinfect personal workspaces and administrative areas.
If you offer grooming services, establish a zone of responsibility for those employees, too.
Once zones and responsibilities are established, provide comprehensive team training. Everyone needs to understand the whats, whys and hows of your protocols. Create checklists for each area of the hospital. Include specific information about locations, surfaces, cleaning methods or products, frequency and accountability.
Avoid Common Mistakes
You don’t want this to happen:
- Improper dilution of cleaning solutions. Label instructions must be followed to ensure maximum effectiveness. Whether you are diluting for a spray bottle or mop bucket, attention must be paid to the concentration. This is not the time to pinch pennies.
- Inadequate contact time. Surfaces must stay wet for the appropriate time to ensure maximum efficacy. The period will vary from product to product, so check labels.
- Not adhering to shelf life. Concentrated and diluted products will expire, so be aware of the time frame. Diluted solutions likely have a shorter shelf life than the concentrate.
- Topping off bottles of diluted solutions. Don’t mix the old with the new. Start with a new diluted product each time. This includes what you put in your mop bucket.
- Mixing cleaning products. Dangerous chemical reactions could occur, or the solution could be rendered inactive. Cleaning products should never be combined. Check labels.
- Poor team training. You won’t get buy-in if employees do not understand how to use the cleaning products. This is especially important when you change products. Be sure to maintain current safety data sheets for all products.
Establish employee health and hygiene guidelines. For example:
- Employees stay home when they don’t feel well, have a fever or display viral symptoms. Return-to-work criteria must be set.
- Regular hand-washing with soap and water is mandatory. Hand sanitizers should be made available.
- Provide and insist on the regular use of personal protective equipment. This is especially important during the treatment and care of isolated patients diagnosed with zoonotic viruses or who display symptoms.
Once you create your disinfection and cleaning program, remember to add it to your injury and illness prevention plan (IIPP). Also, add all new cleaning, sanitizing and disinfectant solutions to your hazardous chemicals list. Compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines is essential.
Benjamin Franklin said it best: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Take the steps necessary to provide a safe workplace for everyone.
Additional advice about cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing is online.