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New Program Aimed To Help Stop Spread of Germs

September 08, 2017

Wherever there is sickness or disease there is going to be germs, and wherever there are germs there is going to be the potential to spread those germs. That is why hospitals and physician offices work so hard to make sure their environment is as clean and sterile as possible.

While Wilbarger General Hospital’s infection rate is well below the national average, a new program will be implemented in September in an effort to promote patient safety and help eliminate those hospital acquired infections.

 “We have hand washing policies in place at the hospital, but sometimes the policy isn’t followed like it should be,” said Leah Saylor, RN, who oversees Infection Control and Employee Health at Wilbarger General. “We want our patients to be active in their process of care while they are with us. The new hand hygiene initiative helps empower the patient to encourage our staff and physicians to help provide safe care. And hand hygiene is an easy way to do that. We want to shine a light on hand hygiene. Starting in September our patient care staff will be wearing buttons that say ‘Ask me if I’ve washed my hands.’ We want our patients to know that it is OK to ask for safe care.”

The CDC states on any given day, about one in 25 hospital patients will acquire at least one healthcare-associated infection. Studies show the hands of healthcare workers are often to blame.  A 2010 study in the journal Infection control & Hospital Epidemiology shows that only 40 percent of doctors and healthcare workers comply with hand hygiene rules in hospitals.

Along with the new hand hygiene initiative, the upcoming program will make the hospital’s 3rd Floor, or Med-Surg Unit, a “Handshake-Free Zone.”

The handshake-free zone is being put into place to compliment the hand hygiene initiative.  When people are admitted to a hospital, they are sick. Their immune systems are vulnerable. It is the job of the hospital staff to protect them and help them feel better.

People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without realizing it, and with cold and flu season rapidly approaching, the handshake-free zone will bring attention to the hands as vectors for illness and help improve compliance with hand hygiene. We’re doing everything we can to minimize hospital-acquired infections and one of the easiest things to do is stop shaking hands.

The hospital plans on putting the new program in place the first part of September. Signs featuring two hands gripping each other inside a circle with a blue line through it and the words “No Offense Just Makes Sense” in the border of the circle and then with the words “We choose to protect YOU! To help reduce the spread of germs, our Med-Surg Unit is now a handshake-free zone. Please find other ways to greet each other,” will be placed around the 3rd floor unit.

Dr. Travis Lehman, WGH hospitalist and medical director, said not shaking hands when greeting patients would take some getting used to, but would be an effective way to decrease the spread of germs.

“We wash our hands all of the time, but bacteria lives on the computers we use when we’re putting information in patient charts and on the phone we’re constantly talking on,” Dr. Lehman said. “The handshake-free zone should be an easy and inexpensive way to help reduce infections.”

While the hospital is going to a handshake-free zone on 3rd Floor, that doesn’t mean employees no longer need to follow the hand washing policy.

“We will continue to track our hand washing compliance numbers and our employees are expected to following our hand washing policy,” Saylor said. “We’re hoping the handshake-free zone will bring attention to the hands and help improve compliance with hand hygiene.”

Regardless of whether you work in a hospital or not, keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps people can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to other people. Many diseases and conditions are spread by people just not washing their hands.

Hand washing can also help battle the rise in antibiotic resistance.

“Hand washing can prevent about 30 percent of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20 percent of respiratory infections,” Saylor said. “Often, antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily for these health issues. By washing our hands frequently we can reduce the number of these infections which will help prevent the overuse of antibiotics, which is the most important factor that is leading to antibiotic resistance. Hand washing can also prevent people from getting sick with germs that are already resistant to antibiotics, which make them difficult to treat.

“We will still be as friendly with our patients, family members, and visitors as we are right now, but we’re going to try and do it without shaking hands,” Saylor explained. “We aren’t banning them all-together; we are just trying to limit the use of handshakes. It won’t be easy. Shaking hands is ingrained in our culture. It’s how we connect with each other. Some may find it offensive. Our hope is that once everyone understands the reason behind it, they will see that we are providing the best possible care to their loved ones.  A simple smile can sometimes go a long way.”