In spring 2020, when COVID-19 first emerged in the U.S., naturally there was a barrage of queries regarding cleaning products used in healthcare facilities. During a roundtable discussion hosted by Healthcare Design in January 2021, a panel of healthcare owners, designers, and product manufacturers, including Mark Alan, senior vice president, product management and development at Inpro Corporation; Leilani Barkan, interior designer at Cleveland Clinic; Nancy Boldt, system manager furnishings, planning, design, and construction at Advocate Aurora Health; Meghan McBride, vice president, strategic accounts, healthcare, education, and government at Tarkett; Sylvia Nash, vice president, healthcare at Kwalu; Nan Schramm, associate partner at E4H Environments for Health Architecture; Thomas Schwieterman, vice president, clinical affairs and chief medical officer at Midmark Corp; Jennifer Wilcynski, associate at Orcutt/Winslow; and Sarah Wolfe, creative director, contract at Crypton, explored evolving hygiene protocols. Here are seven takeaways:
- Avoiding the creation of such germ-breeding grounds as crevices and seams is as fundamental to infection control as cleaning and disinfecting, pointed out McBride.
- Collaboration between design and healthcare teams, like Advocate Aurora Health and Inpro’s commitment to designing a sustainable and wipeable cubicle curtain, is vital.
- Disinfectants have the power to damage surfaces, especially those made from organic materials. “We already see with our very durable products what a beating the cleaners take to them and that they’re not being wiped off. People are cleaning three to five to eight times as much right now, and I feel like we’re going to be in big trouble in two years trying to replace them,” warned Barkan.
- Designers need to confirm with manufacturers that products will withstand cleaning protocols before making a purchase. “That’s starting to narrow down what we can select from,” said Schramm. “We made the decision that we’re going to sacrifice aesthetics whenever we need to, to make the environment safer, and that’s what we’re doing—safety first. Materiality has never been more important, and to our vendors, this is a call to arms.” For example, the firm has stopped specifying carpets and is installing luxury vinyl tile instead.
- The notion of cleanability is important to patients. “When I’m designing fabrics now, I’m thinking about will someone want to sit in that chair, how will that wear, and how will that wearability affect someone’s perception of if this room is clean or not?” Wolfe mused.
- Some new prevention initiatives are already emerging. At an ambulatory surgery center that Wilcynski recently designed, she placed a sink adjacent to the main concierge desk, allowing staff to request patients to wash their hands before being given an iPad at registration. “You make it an experience; you make it like masks today, just something that’s more acceptable. You can do that—that’s why design is powerful. It changes the way people move through spaces,” she explained.
- Along with new product solutions, existing ones are also being questioned. “We’re not continuing to design around COVID-19, but we’re continuing to design around what is a smart design,” Boldt said, noting that high-touch surfaces that require cleaning such as tables in the family zones of patient rooms are being re-evaluated. Nash echoed this, pointing to other threats on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s radar, such as c. diff and c. auris, which both spread by surface contamination. “What we’re focused on right now needs to be the future, not COVID-19,” she said.
A version of this article was originally published by Healthcare Design.