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A Tradition Of Excellence Modernized

January 18, 2012
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Seattle Children''s Hospital — the main clinical, teaching and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine — is a 250-bed facility specializing in meeting the physical, emotional and developmental needs of children.

The Seattle campus and seven regional facilities serve more than 300,000 patients each year — from infants to young adults — in Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho; this makes up the largest region of any children''s hospital in the U.S.

Mitch Birchfield, director of environmental services, believes the hospital''s 100-year tradition of excellence — now with nearly 60 pediatric subspecialties and ranking among the best children''s hospitals in America — should extend to the way the environment is cleaned and maintained.

"The quintessential issue is the patients: Children. Their tolerance is very low," says Birchfield.

Since asthma and chemotherapy patients constitute the two largest groups receiving inpatient care, the ambient environment during and after cleaning is vitally important.

Chemicals To The Wayside

Birchfield has selected less-chemically-intensive ways of cleaning and disinfecting while ensuring that hospital-acquired infections are kept in check.

Steam vapor sanitation devices equipped with a thermally accelerated nano-crystal sanitation (TANCS) water treatment module were chosen because they clean and disinfect rapidly using only tap water — and without chemicals.

The TANCS module converts minerals in tap water to nano crystals energized by heat and delivered by the low-moisture, low-pressure steam to disinfect within seconds of contact time.

Seattle Children''s now has five units used regularly in patient rooms, restrooms and in food service areas, but it all started in kitchens.

"A few years ago, we were looking at alternatives for replacing solvent-type cleaners, degreasers and caustic products for ovens and deep fryers in our kitchens. Traditional products were hard on surfaces, the odors were problematic and there were safety issues, especially with trainees," proclaims Birchfield.

"Steam vapor cleaning is incredibly effective for greasy areas, grills and ovens; it''s better than chemicals, it melts away the grease. You are not dealing with odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or exposing people to harmful substances," continues Birchfield.

Simplistic Sanitization

The steam vapor units are self-contained on a compact rolling cart with tools, enable continuous re-filling and, importantly, work quickly.

"The continuous fill aspect is very helpful since you can keep refilling as needed without waiting for cool-down unlike other steam vapor equipment we had used. You can finish without stopping and restarting," notes Birchfield.

Birchfield, whose staff also now use steam vapor for deep cleaning patient rooms and public restrooms, adds: "One of our central themes is to use products or tools with a safer process. For patient discharge room cleaning, we don''t want to bring in intermediate-level disinfectants because, while they destroy pathogens, they impair indoor air quality — and you need to allow time for proper air exchange before the rooms can be used again. With steam vapor, you can turn the room 25-30 percent faster with similar hygienic outcomes based on adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and other testing."

In restrooms, Birchfield says that labor times are comparable to older methods, but that deep cleaning using steam facilitates restorative and preventive maintenance.

The environmental services staff uses the steam vapor combined with blue color-coded microfiber cloths for patient rooms and general cleaning and orange microfiber cloths for restrooms.

While the steam rapidly kills pathogens within the microfiber or other applicator, color-coding provides an extra degree of insurance again cross-contamination while signaling the need for different processes in different areas.

Training Fosters Perfection

Given the versatility of the equipment, Birchfield says that training of internal staff is key, and vendor training support is critical.

"Our vendor provides very thorough initial and follow-up training, spending perhaps an hour per session getting our technicians up to speed and providing documentation that the training occurred and was effective," opines Birchfield.

"It''s important to mention, though, that the machine is relatively easy to use. Instead of using chemicals that you mix or add into a machine, it''s a compact, self-contained system that just needs water. Staff does not need to go back to the supply closet for more chemicals, saving time and labor," proclaims Birchfield.

Using steam is often much easier than teaching people the dilution ratios and pH levels of chemicals, plus it eliminates the problem of chemical disposal.

"With help from our vendor, we have developed a regular, standardized procedure, and the staff is confident in their ability and the machine''s ability to get the job done well," shares Birchfield.

Birchfield plans to do a return on investment (ROI) analysis to justify future equipment acquisition.

Costs for some chemical products runs into several hundred dollars per five-gallon container, so the comparison will yield timely and important data.

"The fact that the machine has not required any maintenance is also an ROI asset," notes Birchfield.

Disinfecting chemicals — though necessary for compliance in some cases — where used unnecessarily are expensive in more ways than one.

"It just does not make sense to be using unhealthy products in a health care environment when there are safer processes available," concludes Birchfield.

Rick Hoverson is the principal of Advanced Vapor Technologies LLC, Edmonds, Washington. The simplified, water-only protocol for Advanced Vapor Technologies'' proprietary thermo accelerated nano-crystal sanitation (TANCS) steam vapor cleaning and disinfection system means fewer consumables, less room for error and less mess. Reduced health risks than those associated with typical chemical cleaners mean a healthier, more comfortable work environment and fewer lost workdays for your staff and less risk for you. For more information, visit

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