Could a new fabric be the answer to the HAI fight?

There are some typical approaches hospitals and health systems tend to take to prevent healthcare-associated infections, like following proper hand hygiene and environmental cleaning. But one health system in Jacksonville, Fla., took their efforts a little bit further.

In July, Baptist Health became the first large health system to begin using uniforms made of Vestex fabric, which is designed to help fight pathogen transmission.

Even though Baptist is one of the first and largest in the nation to take this step to help keep patients and healthcare workers safe, Diane Raines, RN, senior vice president and CNO of the system, insists Baptist isn't all that different from others.

"Hospitals all across the country are working hard to reduce the spread of infection in the hospital environment," she says. "We're not different than anyone else in that respect."

But when Ms. Raines and other Baptist Health officials heard about the antimicrobial and fluid-resistant fabric, they were "intrigued," she says, and they spent about three years watching the product develop before officially introducing it into its facilities for about 6,000 workers.

What it is
The fabric is fluid-repellent on the outside, which inhibits any splatter or spill of blood, bodily fluid or other substance from soaking through scrubs and touching the healthcare workers' skin, Ben Favret, president and CEO of Vestagen Technical Textiles, the maker of Vestex, explains. The fabric is also antimicrobial, preventing the growth of bacteria on the uniforms, and is breathable as it wicks away sweat on the inside. The dual approach of being both antimicrobial and fluid-repellant is unique to this specific fabric.

A clinical study found that ICU staff wearing Vestex had greater than 99.99 percent fewer methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus organisms on their uniforms before and after their shift compared to workers wearing traditional uniforms with normal fabric.

Baptist Health's COO, John Wilbanks, doesn't think of it as a fabric, Ms. Raines says. "[He] talks about it as being a medical device, not a garment. We're wearing uniforms but it's really a protective device that helps keep us all safer."

How Baptist did it
Ms. Raines followed the development of the technology for two years before to make sure the research showed Vestex could actually reduce bioburden and keep staff safe. Once that was determined, the roll-out process, which lasted more than a year, began.

"It started with a conversation. We brought in our infection prevention staff early on for the initial dialogues," Ms. Raines says. From that point, a group of 100 people were part of the implementation committee.

"They became the champions [of the project]," she explains. Those people helped educate the entire staff on the new technology and why the system was making the switch.

"It's really about elevating the culture of safety and protecting our caregivers, patients and families," she explains. "That message of protection is one we emphasize with all of our staff."  

While the uniforms were distributed in July, staff have until Sept. 1 to fully change over to the new uniforms.

The future
To take the level of protection for workers and patients one step further, Baptist Health plans to provide Vestex technology to patients as well. A caregiver team helped design a line of patient garments, which will include a gown with the crossover in the back, or shorts and a top, which will be available to Baptist Health patients this fall.

Though the technology is an innovative way to protect healthcare workers and patients from disease, Ms. Raines emphasizes it is not a "magic bullet" in the fight against HAIs. "In the healthcare industry, we're working to keep everyone safe from infection. This technology will enable us to do that. It's not the end all be all where you'll never see an infection again, but we believe it will make a difference in our ability to reduce the spread of infection and build upon our culture of safety."

Even though putting workers in protective, antimicrobial uniforms is not the only tool Baptist Health uses in its infection prevention efforts, it is an important, innovative step in making healthcare facilities safe for all.

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