Feature articlesMay 2020

Fighting COVID by flushing it down the drain

JGH Laundry team delivers 9,100 kilos of clean items to patients and staff each day

For anyone unnerved by the contagiousness of COVID-19, here’s another perspective: The virus can’t tolerate being drowned, scalded, soaped, beaten, whirled and flushed down the drain—in other words, a full-on assault by a washing machine.

Your humble home washer will do the job just fine. But to handle the enormous, heavy‑duty loads that only a hospital can generate, there’s nothing more formidable than the industrial-strength onslaught that takes place each day in the JGH Laundry.

It’s all based on the same principle as the advice we’ve been hearing for weeks: Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.

In fact, says David Diachidos, Chief of Laundry and Linen Services, COVID is more susceptible to hot water and detergent than many of the other hospital-borne infections, such as C. difficile, VRE, MRSA and CRO.

This has helped the JGH Laundry to maintain a steady pace and a reliable, daily output of about 9,100 kilograms (20,000 pounds) of sheets, towels, scrubs, gowns, uniforms and numerous other items.

COVID-19 is more susceptible to hot water and detergent than many of the other hospital-borne infections.

Much of it comes from areas where staff may encounter or provide treatment to COVID‑positive patients, including the Emergency Department, the Intensive Care Unit, the sixth, eighth and ninth floors of Pavilion K, the seventh floor of C-D and the eighth floor of D.

The number of full-time employees remains at pre‑COVID levels—25 on weekdays and 16 on weekends. The only notable change is the addition of up to four staff members to prepare some of the cleaned clothing to be placed into three machines, known collectively as the scrub distribution system.

According to Mr. Diachidos, the clean scrubs are placed into a large electronic dispenser (similar to a vending machine), which allows employees to use their hospital identification card withdraw fresh items and deposit soiled garments.

These sophisticated machines—located in Emergency, Intensive Care and the third floor of Pavilion G—monitor whatever has been taken and returned, as well as the identity of the employees involved. This enables the Laundry to keep track of inventory and know how much of which items are needed in specific locations.

Mr. Diachidos recalls that when the presence of COVID was first confirmed at the JGH, some members of his team felt somewhat uneasy, since the situation was so new and information about the virus was still coming in.

However, he adds, these employees were already accustomed to taking significant precautions in laundering items that harboured potentially dangerous microbes. Once COVID’s characteristics were better understood, staff felt more confident about washing away the virus, while taking advantage of gloves, masks and distancing.

“At our regular staff meetings, I can see how seriously they treat their responsibilities in keeping patients and staff safe,” Mr. Diachidos says. “It’s obvious that they take a great deal of pride in what they’re doing, and I’m lucky to be part of such a dedicated and hard-working group.”

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