Carpet manufactured with special fiber systems could offer additional benefits within a healthcare environment. Shown is SmartStrand Contract with Dupont Sorona polymer, a bleach-resistant fiber system and will not lose durability or color quality. Photo courtesy The Mohawk Group.

This year alone, more than 100,000 people will die from healthcare acquired infections (HAIs) in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) First State-Specific Healthcare-Associated Infections Summary Data Report, January-June 2009. In fact, each year these types of infections yield greater fatalities amongst Americans than AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.  

For an environment intended for healing, these numbers are more than shocking. However, they also suggest that hand washing and sanitary cleaning are not enough to promote infection prevention. Hospitals must now weave sanitation within their very design to adhere to the most stringent health standards and assure patient health.

Enter the healing power of flooring. The most pervasive surface in healthcare, flooring can no longer be an afterthought when it comes to hospital design. Instead, choosing the right flooring not only adds to the safety, quiet and comfort of a healthcare environment, but also to the reduced potential for HAI transmission.

Selection Process
With such powerful design bearings, flooring selection for use in a healthcare environment requires knowledge of technical subjects including acoustics, biomechanics, safety and maintenance. This will help ensure positive patient outcomes and staff performance.

Adding to the list of considerations are established and emerging technologies for antimicrobial properties, which are often incorporated into or applied to flooring.

While antimicrobial properties are seemingly beneficial to healthcare industries, government agencies and flooring manufacturers are still hesitant to substantiate the additives’ infection prevention advantages because of significant lack of scientific evidence, according to researchers.

Lees carpet tile/broadloom style What Moves You? is made with bio-based SmartStrand Contract with DuPont Sorona. Photo courtesy The Mohawk Group.

A Healthy Look at Carpet
A May 2008 study, Carpet, Asthma and Allergies – Myth or Reality by Mitchell W. Sauerhoff, found carpet can actually decrease the likelihood of transmitting infections because of its ability to sequester biological contaminants until they can be removed by proper cleaning. While the real advantages of antimicrobial additives remain in question, the positive power of carpet within healthcare spaces has substantiated proof. Carpet offers the following benefits:

Slip prevention.Carpet reduces the risk of in-patient falls, as well as that of caregiver and visitor falls, by offering a non-slip surface in high-traffic areas. If for some reason a fall occurs despite the non-slip surface, carpet can potentially reduce the severity of injuries by cushioning the impact.

Hospital acoustics.For those who have visited a healthcare patient room or walked the halls of a hospital featuring hard floors, they are well aware of echoes and background noises. In fact, according to Press Ganey hospital exit surveys, too much noise is the number one complaint amongst patients. These negative survey responses could directly impact a hospital’s reputation and bottom line.

To avoid potentially damaging feedback, studies show that improved acoustics lower background noise, increase speech recognition, increase healthcare worker performance, improve patient performance, reduce medical errors and prevent violent behavior due to stress.

By facilitating a quieter setting, carpeting enables caregivers to work more efficiently, visitors to hear more clearly and patients to heal more peacefully.

Breathing better.High-traffic areas often stir up airborne particulates that patients, caregivers and visitors could potentially inhale. To avoid this, carpets trap the particulates and keep dust and allergen levels out of reach of an individual’s breathing zone.

Comfort head to toe.Perhaps an obvious reason carpet is chosen for healthcare facilities is for maximum caregiver underfoot comfort and/or minimum-rolling resistance to prevent lost-time injuries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses who spend all day on their feet are the second largest group at risk for workplace-related injuries, right behind truck drivers. The appropriate flooring choice is essential for job safety and efficiency.

Contrary to popular belief, not all carpet is created equal when it comes to comfort and rolling resistance. Carpet without an attached cushion has been shown to have remarkable anti-fatigue properties without compromising rolling mobility as cushions typically do. An ideal flooring system to achieve both anti-fatigue performance and low-rolling resistance is a modular or broadloom carpet with a dense, non-cushioned PVC or thermoplastic performance backing coupled with a dense, low pile face construction to ensure caregiver productivity and comfort.

Carpet/Carpet tiles.It is widely believed that carpet in healthcare environments harbors microbes of all types. While this has been proven false based on aforementioned studies, myths that carpet tiles are especially susceptible to leak-through by bio-contaminated spills still remain. The CDC recommends the use of modular carpet in areas where contaminated spills are likely in order to enable ease of removal, replacement and decontamination or disposal.

While broadloom and modular carpet each feature aesthetic and healthcare benefits, carpet tile is often quicker to install and has higher anti-fatigue properties than commercial broadloom, especially products with unitary or non-performance-type backing. Performance backings used on carpet tiles act as a moderating layer, which absorbs and disperses the energy of foot impact more efficiently. This construction can also have better acoustic performance in terms of reducing distracting noises.

Sweeping the Surface
Some areas – including bathrooms, labs, patient rooms and closets – require more maintenance than others due to their spill susceptibility. This is the location hard surfaces such as rubber and vinyl tile sparkle due to ease of clean-up. Hard surfaces and carpet effectively resist microbial growth, given proper cleaning. Additionally, because such maintenance-heavy areas have the lowest amounts of foot traffic, airborne particulates are more contained.